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The importance of building a mental health first aid community

Watching the New Zealand All blacks Rugby team in action never fails to impress me. They embody the word team. The understanding shared between the players is so clear to see. And then there’s the shared ritual of the Haka the ancient Maori dance the team performs before matches, bringing the team together.

You don’t need a Haka, but you do need a tribe

Finding and recruiting a team of suitable mental health first aiders is important, but like in most groups with a purpose the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. By turning your mental health first aid team into a cohesive community you can enhance its strength and effectiveness.

Group pride

Human beings love to feel that they’re part of something. Whether that’s a sports team, band, clothing brand or a vegan lifestyle people love to know that they’re part of a community. Being able to get behind that community’s purpose gives meaning to individual actions and a sense of mission.

If your mental health first aiders are aware of their collective purpose this can give them a sense of guidance, and also a reminder of their ‘WHY’ to keep them motivated when times get tough. Its easy to leave a team you don’t feel part of.

Indirect learning

It can take years to learn the most effective ways of doing something when we’re relying on our own experience or study. But when we get to hear about the experiences of our team members, we multiply that learning as we’re benefitting from not only our experiences but that of every one of our community members too.

A shoulder to lean on

The power of a support network can never be underestimated, especially when it includes others in a similar boat. A team of mental health first aiders all carrying out the same role are likely to have similar experiences, and this can be useful when you know you can share something difficult with somebody who may have also experienced it or will at least understand the context you’re speaking within.

What does community look like?

Whilst having your own Haka would be fabulous for community bonding there are easier ways to create community. It can be as simple as just setting up a WhatsApp group for your mental health first aiders to share stories and ask each other questions. This gives greater access to one another should they choose it, but also the option to keep it in the background and dip in as they choose.

Regular meetings are also a great opportunity to interact with one another. This could be done virtually and/or face to face. The most important thing is to ask your community what THEY want it to look like, rather than assume you know. They might just say a quarterly coffee catch up, but you won’t know until you ask them.

Easy but highly beneficial

Setting up your community can be cheap (if not free), and it will take care of itself with little to no intervention and upkeep on your part, and you will reap the following benefits:

  • Everybody will feel part of a community

  • Loyalty to the group

  • Sense of mission and purpose

  • Learn indirectly from one another

  • Support network for any challenges

  • Regular exposure makes the group even more cohesive

What will yours look like?

So, ask your mental health first aid team what they want the community to look like, and begin building. You might find that you already have the expertise within the community to build anything you need, such as a WhatsApp or Facebook group. Once up and running you can let the community run itself and enjoy the rewards that brings...


Jonathan Pittam

Mental Health educator


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