Music Support provides a range of mental health first aid courses delivered by an instructor, qualified by Mental Health First Aid England. These courses are aimed at raising awareness of mental illness within the industry, enabling people to support themselves and others to aid recovery.

Read more real life stories about how our mental health first aid courses have helped in the workplace and daily life. 

My name is Caoimhe O’Connell.  I originally trained as a primary school teacher but a couple of years ago I changed career and moved into music and youth work at Oh Yeah Music Centre, Belfast.  My current job is to engage young people in music and help the journey of aspiring local musicians, gig promoters, journalists, production workers etc.  If it is music related my job is to help open the door and get young people involved.


Why did you do the course?

I initially expressed interest in the training as part of my own professional development and to see how it could help in my day-to-day job working with adults and young people.  However, it ended up being a lifeline and something that has and will continue to affect my personal life too.  It has also come in handy during lockdown.


What was your experience like on the course?

I attended the first few sessions with some of my colleagues from Oh Yeah Centre.  We are all very close like family so I really felt I could open up to them about most things.  Due to personal reasons I had to finish the final sessions with a different group which was more challenging, but in some ways helpful too.  In the second group I felt like there was space for me to talk about some subjects I may not otherwise usually talk about.  I learnt that sometimes it can be easier to speak to a stranger about how you are feeling rather than someone you know; just that freedom to be yourself around new people and knowing that the people around me had no ‘preconceived notions’ about me.


What did you learn?  Has the course changed your approach in any way?

The course has helped me with what to say and how to approach situations where my previous initial response may have unintentionally been less effective.  The conversation I now have with someone struggling is less on my terms and that makes me even more effective as a helper.  The first thing that I am more inclined to do now is ask what the person needs.   I am better at judging when to give advice and when not to, when to just listen.

I have previously completed some psychotherapy related training and I have a diploma in parent mentoring in education settings, so I already had a big interest in the subject matter prior to attending the training.  Because of my background I had a preconceived idea that the course was only going to be a refresher about things I already knew about mental health.  However, it was much more than that.  I was surprised about how little I actually knew.

The course was about what do you do when you come across somebody that is in distress.  It looked at how best to approach a situation when you are presented with it.  It is not about fixing somebody, giving them therapy, or analysing their behaviour.   I found it to be practical about how you can help in a situation that you are faced with.

So, if I am honest, a lot of what I learnt felt new to me.


How have you used the training since completing the course?

In one project I have worked with vulnerable women.  We originally started the project prior to lockdown, and it involved learning an instrument.   I was determined to keep the project going during lockdown, so we had to tweak the focus of our sessions which involved the women sharing some of their personal experiences.  A lot of the women had previously experienced trauma in their lives and although it was not a therapy session, I felt I was able to understand, support them and facilitate the sessions in the way they needed.  I think that was partly due to what I had gained from the MHFA course.  Prior to the course I do not know if I would have been as comfortable or as well equipped to deal with the things we discussed.

We [Oh Yeah Centre] have also found that the course has even been helpful between colleagues during lockdown.  During lockdown it has not always been possible to get the emotional support that I would normally get from friends.  The only kind of support I was getting was work Zoom calls and I noticed that my colleagues were using the MHFA strategies with me.  There was one particular occasion where I knew it was straight out of the textbook, but I also knew it was genuine and I was so happy because they recognised what I needed in that moment.


Did the course change any of your attitudes or approach towards helping others?

I no longer try and fix people’s mental health problems; I realise that it is not my place to do that just because I have done training or studying.  The biggest one for me is about making them [the person in front of you] the focus rather than thinking I know what is best in this situation.   It is about what does this person know and need; how can I find out what this person needs; and how can I give them the support that they need.

I now have a checklist [in my mind] that I go through rather than rushing to fix the problem.


What are your hopes and aspirations in this area going forward?

My colleagues and I would like to do some additional training and focus on the youth side of mental health.

I have also been recommending MHFA training to other groups I am involved with in my personal time outside of work because I feel this is such an important area.

I would recommend the MHFA course to anyone who is considering doing it.