A few years ago, I attended a Salsa party with intentions of wowing the world with my slick moves. Shock horror, I was absolutely awful at it. This discomfort was compounded by the fact that my girlfriend is almost at professional level and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t having the time of my life.
Contrast this with another event I went to where a friend came with us who was equally out of his depth and as awful as me. In fact, he was probably worse, which was reassuring. Having somebody there who had begun at the same time as me, struggling just as much as me, and who didn’t judge me for constantly falling over my feet felt very comforting.
The experience of going through this with an ally helped slightly heal the emotional and reputational scars gained in my first experience, and actually made me want to persevere.
All alone at sea
Many of the mental health first aiders I speak to mention feeling isolated and unsure in the role initially. And why wouldn’t they, they’re doing something completely new to them that involves exposure. They’re out on the Salsa dancefloor as newbies expected to perform smoothly.
Although part of a team, mental health first aiders aren’t in regular contact as a group, and in between the meetings they do have its easy to feel alone. These feelings of isolation can lead to self-doubt which can have a huge impact on motivation and staying power.
A full inbox
There’s also the fact that mental health first aiders are regularly exposed to other people’s problems of varying degrees of seriousness and darkness. Some are unphased by this but others aren’t. Sometimes we just need to download and share with others in order to clear our mental inbox.
A mental health first aider who doesn’t have somebody they can speak to for reassurance, swapping ideas and for a good download is more likely to become overwhelmed, disillusioned and lose their motivation to continue.
Buddies as a shoulder to rely on
With one of my clients, we always suggest the idea of mental health first aiders choosing a buddy to form an alliance with. Somebody to swap email addresses and mobile numbers with so they can call or schedule a call with any time they need it.
Buddies are a great form of support for those times in between group meetings where you want or need to connect with somebody in the same boat as yourself. Somebody who has probably experienced a similar range of emotions around learning something new and then putting themselves out there as you.
A key point to remember
It might seem logical to do the pairing up for your mental health first aiders, but in my experience letting them choose for themselves yields far better results. People will choose somebody they feel drawn to in the same way visitors to your mental health first aid portal will choose a first aider they feel an affinity with. So let them choose for themselves where possible.
Put out the feelers
So, at your next group get together why not put the idea on the table and see what response you get. Some may feel they don’t need it; some will pair up immediately, and there may be some left who you can help buddy up.
Once up and running your buddies can provide a source of reassurance, support, idea sharing and motivation for one another along their mental health first aid journey...
Jonathan Pittam Mental Health Educator