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We’re bombarded with messages about personal resilience these days. Specifically about becoming ‘more resilient’. Those messages aren’t necessarily helpful.

Life events, personal responsibilities, financial pressure, stress at work, discrimination and illness can, and do overwhelm even the most resilient people. Whoever they are and whatever that means.

This can result in, or be because of mental ill-health.

Mental ill-health is still on its journey towards being treated like physical ill-health. If you break a bone, people don’t tell you it was because you weren’t resilient enough.

The resilience message can deter people from seeking help when their mental health isn’t so good. Factors such as culture, ethnicity, gender, familial and socio-economic status can also make it difficult to seek out and access mental health support.

Musicians are among the strongest people I know and yet our experience of mental ill-health is greater than that of non-musicians. There are multiple reasons for this, both external and internal, just as there are numerous intersectional factors in maintaining good physical health.

What I’d said gave them confidence to seek support for their own mental health

Last year the Musicians Union, in conjunction with Music Support, sought to enable members to learn about and to support their own and others’ mental health through recognised training in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA).

I once mentioned in passing to someone at work that I’d received effective treatment for an episode of Depression. I didn’t see them for a long time after that but they told me that what I’d said gave them confidence to seek support for their own mental health for the first time.

Getting help if you need and want it makes a big difference but, when you’re mentally unwell, it can be hard to recognise or express that need, and hard to reach out for information, support or treatment. That’s where Mental Health First Aid comes in.

Last year the MU committed to training 50 members as Mental Health First Aiders and in Spring 2021, I became one of those people.

I’ve been surprised at how frequently I’ve had reason to call on that training and how much better I now hear and see what people are expressing about their mental health.

The outstanding quality training and resources from Mental Health First Aid England includes training in how to listen without judgement. It teaches you how to recognise that differences of experience can cause individuals to be differently affected mentally by circumstances that, on the surface, may seem the same. MHFA training will help you to more fully interpret what someone is communicating.

Maybe you’ve had that feeling that someone isn’t quite themselves?

Maybe you feel unsettled about someone’s wellbeing without quite knowing why?

Maybe a colleague self-medicates or engages in substance misuse?

Maybe this tour seems to be taking it out of someone more than usual?

Being a Mental Health First Aider is not about diagnosing or treating a person

MHFA training helps you to notice things, to understand possible causes of mental ill health and - most importantly - to know what you can safely do to assist someone, if they want you to.

MFHA training also teaches you what to do and what professional services to call on if someone’s safety may be compromised by their state of mind.

Being a Mental Health First Aider is not about diagnosing or treating a person. It is about access to reliable information about mental health services, knowing how to enquire sensitively in conversations around wellbeing, and knowing how to offer or seek assistance appropriately in a range of mental health scenarios.

MHFA training provides you with the skills to notice potential mental health signals, the ability to sensitively raise the subject, knowledge of what services are available, and how and when you or someone else can contact those services.

Try listening for that little bit longer

The course takes place over several half days with an expert live trainer online. It includes quality, sensitive education about a wide range of mental health experiences, the ways these can present, and some of the risk factors in developing them. Also included are the types of treatment and support people may have had or be having for their mental health and some surprising and insightful statistics. High quality reference material is provided and this has been invaluable to me.

The course is delivered with awareness that trainees may have their own experiences of mental ill health and treatment. Participants are encouraged to participate safely and to protect their own wellbeing.

We’ve all arrived at work and greeted colleagues with a “Hi, how are you?”, but are we really inviting a reply? Try listening for that little bit longer.

You can sign up for your own training via Mental Health First Aid England; let’s support one another in change for the better.

The MU has a range of health and wellbeing courses currently available to members, keep an eye on our events page for upcoming related training and development opportunities.

Useful resources and further reading

  • Mental Health First Aid England - Mental health training online and face to face.
  • Help Musicians UK - A charity for professional musicians of all genres, both in work and in retirement. They help at times of crisis, but also at times of opportunity, giving people the support they need at the crucial stages that could make or break their career.
  • Music Support - A registered charity founded in April 2016 by people from within the UK music industry. They provide help and support for those who work in UK music and live events affected by mental ill-health and/or addiction. 
  • Music Minds Matter - Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Music Minds Matter is Help Musicians' dedicated mental health support line and service for the whole UK music community.
  • MU’s Musicians and Mental Health: What is Being Done to Help - An informative look at the mental health of musicians, as part of our Musicians' Wellbeing Guidance Pack.
  • Can Music Make you Sick Report - In 2016, Help Musicians commissioned the University of Westminster and MusicTank to undertake the largest known study into mental health and the music industry.
Photo ofLouise Braithwaite
Thanks to

Louise Braithwaite

Louise is a professional, freelance musician who specialises in orchestral, theatre and chamber music. She is also an Oboe tutor and guest lecturer in Music in higher education and offers Music for Health and Wellbeing services, as well as Wellbeing and Relaxation sessions for those living with Dementia. Visit her official site: www.louise-braithwaite.co.uk.

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Published: 03 April 2024

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