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Mental Health First Aid
Firstly, see a mental health aid website.
This, in the words of the site, “…is the initial help given to someone experiencing a mental health problem before professional help is sought.”
There is information about “first aid strategies” for responding to people having panic attacks, or who are suicidal, or other mental health problems.
The site also points you to places where you can get mental health first aid training – including England, Scotland, Finland and some other countries. It looks like the training is better developed and more widely available in Scotland than elsewhere.
Secondly, some notes on the main types of mental health problems and advice to give people about retreats and meditation.
Mental Health, Retreats, and Meditation
These are some notes from a presentation given by Paramabandhu on the January 07 European Chairs Meeting. He gave us a very basic, simple overview of the types of mental health problems, and how to respond helpfully to someone suffering from such a problem, and what to recommend to them in terms of meditating and attending retreats. The notes have been compiled by Vajragupta and checked by Paramabandhu. Please note it is only intended to give a very basic overview.
Firstly, a general point. Sometimes people express concern about their legal liability if someone became mentally ill, or harmed themselves through mental illness, whilst on retreat. You do not need to worry overmuch about this. It should be covered by your public indemnity insurance policy and it would be very unlikely that a court would rule that the activities of a retreat led to mental illness. We just need to look after the person as best we can.
There are three main categories of mental illness:
* The symptoms of these kinds of mental illness are delusions such as paranoid beliefs, and hallucinations such as hearing voices.
* If somebody shows signs of psychosis on a retreat, then assign someone to be with them in a supportive way. You don’t need to try and talk them into a different state, just be with them and support their ‘islands of sanity’.
* It is best that they stop meditating, but encourage them to do practical, helpful tasks on the retreat.
* If their condition is very bad and disruptive, it is perfectly reasonable to ask them to leave the retreat and go home. You can also suggest that you take them to a hospital. Someone can only be ‘sectioned’ if they are thought to be at risk to others or themselves.
* If someone you know has a history of psychotic illness is thinking of coming on a retreat, be cautious about them doing lots of meditation – this is thought to be unhelpful and promote relapse. Guide them to less intense retreats.
* Have someone on the retreat team who can keep an eye on them, stay in friendly contact with them.
* Sometimes people can think they can stop taking their medication once they are on retreat. If you hear of this, encourage the person to continue with medication. It works on a different ‘niyama’ to ethics, meditation, and spiritual practice – so they can continue with both.
2) Non-Psychotic Mental Illness:
* This category includes depressive illnesses or anxiety disorders. Symptoms of depression include inability to take much, or any, pleasure in life, lack of energy and purpose, feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and helplessness. With anxiety disorders there may be episodes of severe anxiety (panic attacks) or on-going marked anxiety.
* If someone shows signs of these types of illness, suggest they seek professional help. Medication may give them relief within a relatively short period of time. Therapies such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) are also effective. CBT Drug and therapy approaches can also be combined. Often it is best to find out what their own inclination and preference is, and encourage that. MBCT (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy) has been shown to be effective in preventing relapse into recurrent depression.
* On a retreat, be supportive and encourage them to help out with practical things and simple activities. These may help â€œliftâ€ them to some extent – be supportive but not pushy.
3) Personality Issues:
* None of us are perfect and will have different strengths and weaknesses in our personality. Sometimes the issues can be very marked such as repeated self-harming or antisocial behaviour. The person may not be fully conscious of the issues him or herself. These kinds of difficulties often originate in childhood or adolescence.
* Again, encourage them to seek professional advice. There are different kinds of therapeutic help, but perhaps the most important thing is that they find a therapist whom they trust and feel they can work with.