How many times a day do we ask a loved one, friend, colleague, neighbour or other acquaintance, “How are you?”, and what kind of reply do we usually get?
Most of the time, it’s a superficial, “I’m fine thank you”, and then both parties rush on with their busy lives.
Sometimes, if the person has a physical health issue, they may mention that: “I’ve got a cold and I feel lousy”, or “I twisted my ankle last week” – whatever it may be. But what about if they have a mental health problem? Opening up and talking about mental health problems is still taboo and carries a lot of misunderstanding, uncertainty, fear and stigmatisation.
For someone struggling with their mental health, being asked how they are is actually a really important question. Sufferers would like to be able to talk about their issues and feel supported by someone who has the time to listen. But because of worries about being perceived as weak, having the courage to answer honestly can be very difficult.
Also, for many people, taking the time to listen to a person with mental health issues with compassion and empathy can feel uncomfortable, or may not come naturally.
In Europe, 1 in 2 adults will experience mental distress at some point in their lives, with depression and anxiety the most common diagnoses.1 Approximately 17% of the Swiss population suffer from at least one mental illness but in 2013 in this country, only 33% of those experiencing mental illness received professional help.2,3
Many people are not well informed about how to recognise mental health problems, how to respond to an affected person or about what effective treatments are available. Plenty of myths and misconceptions are still out there. But now is the time to act. We need to bust these myths, change these misconceptions and break down the barriers of stigmatisation because mental health issues are so common.
So, how can this be achieved?
Earlier in 2019, the Swiss Foundation Pro Mente Sana, together with the Beisheim Foundation, successfully launched the Australian Mental Health First Aid Programme in Switzerland. Here, the programme is called “ensa Mental Health First Aid”, ensa meaning ‘answer’ in one of the Aboriginal languages and being translatable in German, French, Italian and English.
This well-validated, evidence-based programme has existed since the early noughties in Australia, having been developed by Betty Kitchener, a health education nurse, and Tony Jorm, a mental health literacy professor.
It trains and empowers lay people to provide initial support to others who may be either developing mental health problems, experiencing worsening of existing mental health problems, or who may be experiencing a mental health crisis. It’s essentially a First Aid training programme with similar principles to those for physical First Aid but this time for mental health.
And there is strong evidence supporting its utility. Several randomised controlled trials have shown that Mental Health First Aid training not only improves a participant’s knowledge of mental health but also reduces their stigmatising behaviour towards others and increases their self-confidence in their ability to help those in need. In addition, it also strengthens the individual’s own mental wellbeing.4
From October 2019, ensa Mental Health First Aid courses will be delivered in English throughout Switzerland, with HealthFirst being an ensa partner in Suisse Romande.
Any interested person can become a Mental Health First Aider. No healthcare background or pre-requisite training is necessary. Find out more about an ensa Mental Health First Aid course near you at https://www.healthfirst.ch/ or https://www.ensa.swiss, or enquire about a course within your company or organisation using .
Let’s do something about mental health together!
With thanks to Roger Staub, Director Swiss Foundation Pro Mente Sana
- Wittchen, H.-U., & Jacobi, F. Size and burden of mental health disorders in Europe – a critical review and appraisal of 27 studies. Neuropharmacology, 2005.
- Bürli, C., Amstad, F., Duetz Schmucki, M., & Schibili, D. (2015). Psychische Gesunheit in der Schweiz. Bestandsaufnahme und Handlungsfelder. Bericht im Auftrag des Dialogs Nationale Gesundheitspolitik. Bern.
- Rüesch, P., Bänziger, A., & Juvalta, S. Regionale psychiatrische Inanspruchnahme und Versorgungsbedarf in der Schweiz. Datengrundlagen, statistische Modelle, ausgewählte Ergebnisse – eine explorative Studie (Obsan Dossier 23). Neuchâtel 2013.
- Summaries of studies available at www.mhfa.com.au
Dr Michelle Wright is a British-trained General Practitioner and Director of HealthFirst, providing dynamic First Aid Training and Health Education in English throughout Switzerland (www.healthfirst.ch). She also has a regular radio show about health on World Radio Switzerland (www.worldradio.ch/healthmatters).