Why is it important that coaches understand Mental Health First Aid?

mental health awareness week

Why is it important that coaches understand Mental Health First Aid?


At first, I didn’t really understand why it is important that coaches undertake Mental Health First Aid (MHFA).  Or really what was meant when people talk about mental health.  That changed when I completed my MHFA course.  It was only during the course that I took the opportunity to really reflect.  And as I did, I was faced with a reality that I found confronting.


Opening my note-book, across the top of a blank page I wrote: ‘People experiencing mental health’. I started making a list.  My cousin who took his life when we were both in our teens. The football coach we knew who took his life.  Another relative, who struggled with alcoholism but drove home one night, into a tree. A friend who openly shared his anxiety and struggle with depression. A colleague, who has a son that is suffering and won’t go to school.  A person I was introduced to who needed help returning to University after a severe mental health trauma.  A mother who reached out on social media to ask for help for her 13-year old.


I continued listing.  Thinking about my clients.  A client who set a goal to be off anti-depressants by the end of the year. Another who admitted getting out of bed was a struggle, but said he was ‘managing it’.  Yet another who in response to a question I asked, said she would ‘take it up with her psychologist’.  Someone who said they had a plan to ‘blow up the place’.


Did I do the right thing?


The reality was overwhelming.  Hence in response, I started questioning myself. ‘Did I do the right thing?’. ‘What did I say at the time?’. ‘How supportive was I?’.  ‘Could I have done something different?’.  The course Facilitator said that questioning myself was a normal process. Unfortunately, hearing these words didn’t make me feel any better.  On the first break, walking out into the sunshine, I expressed gratefulness for my own life.  Just breathing in the sunshine. I was open to learning. I really wanted to be able to have helpful conversations.  But at the same time, feeling overwhelmed.  Soon, I remembered one of my grounding beliefs. That in all circumstances we are doing the best with the resources that we have available to us. As a result, I went back into the room feeling ready to make the most of the training.


Much like physical first aid but different


As a qualified surf life saver, I was familiar with learning skills that might be used in the future.  Skills that might save a life.  I have always thought that it’s better to have the skills so you can act.  Not to stand by helpless.  In physical first aid there is a range of treatments.  From treating a simple cut to something more serious that you would require you to call to an ambulance. MHFA is similar. MHFA is a set of skills that can be utilised to assist someone if needed, across a range of issues. But rather than treating a physical wound, we are following a process to offer support.



ALGEE Action Plan


The MHFA program introduced me to the ALGEE Action Plan.  ALGEE is an acronym for a process to follow.


Approach, assess and assist with any crisis

Listen non-judgementally

Give support and information

Encourage appropriate professional help

Encourage other supports


Sitting along-side the ALGEE process, it a whole set of questions that we might ask to open up a conversation.  Consequently, in thinking about those questions, the link to coaching became clearer to me.  And this link is related to understanding the coaching boundary.


Understanding the coaching boundary


As coaches, we are always aware of the coaching boundaries. Where it is appropriate to stop coaching and offer another support service?  Coaches often tell me they take off their ‘coaching hat’ and offer mentoring or advice.  Similarly, asking a client if coaching is the right approach for them right now, is an important thing to do.  This awareness has been specifically built into the refreshed International Coach Federation (ICF) Core Competencies.


Consequently, I see offering MHFA as a critical support service.  A service that we are able to offer if needed.  In my head, I imagine it would be taking off the ‘coaching hat’.  However, at the same time, we are listening, asking quality questions, and demonstrating genuine care for a person. Therefore, our coaching behaviours are still present, whilst following the MHFA process.


An important skill for all coaches


With 1 in 5 Australians experiencing a mental health illness in any year, MHFA is an important skill for all coaches.  The reasons for this are now clearer to me.


Firstly, mental health in our workplaces and community is a real issue. Raising our awareness of MHFA puts us in a better position as a professional, to understand what is happening in our workplaces and community.  MHFA allows us to be properly informed. Rather than having a vague awareness or relying on popular news feeds.


Secondly, by obtaining MHFA skills we are able to support a person if the need arose.  As coaches, offering alternative support might be just the thing that is needed at that point in time.


Better equipped to have quality conversations


Finally, MHFA is not obviously not restricted to our roles as coaches.  We are playing many roles in our lives with many different people.  Consequently, by completing the MHFA course, I feel better equipped to have quality conversations about mental health, across all the different areas of my life. For that, I am really grateful.

Enrol in the Mental Health First Aid Program

We offer Mental Health First Aid courses throughout the year. You can read more about the course, and enrol, here.

The course is accredited through Mental Health First Aid Australia.

Watch our webinar

We recorded this webinar recently, that outlines some key statistics around Mental Health and Mental Illness in Australia, as well as an overview of the Mental Health First Aid course.