Mental Health Awareness Week - A chat with Alex Cartwright

Mental Health Awareness Week - A chat with Alex Cartwright

Today kicks off the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, with ‘take time to kōrero’ the theme for this year – especially apt given circumstances at present.

Alex Cartwright is a Climate and Risk Consultant based in Christchurch and he’s also a trained mental health first aider. Being able to kōrero with empathy and understanding helps Alex provide practical and pragmatic support to people during and following an emergency.

We caught up with Alex to ask him about what being a mental health first aider involves, how he applies it to his mahi, and tips for anyone going through a tough time.

You’re a mental health first aider, how did you get into that?

Having spent a few years volunteering in the UK Ambulance Service, I saw my fair share of incidents - many of which related to mental health. It’s fair to say many of those incidents affected my mental health too. Training in mental health first aid seemed like a natural step. I have continued my mental health first aid training here in NZ as part of my role as a team leader for Christchurch’s Emergency Support Team.

What does being a mental health first aider involve and how do you use that in the field?

Mental health takes on all different forms, as does the training. My focus has been on mental health first aid following an emergency, where it’s vital that we can provide:

  • Practical and pragmatic support that is delivered with empathy and attention of the diversity of people
  • Support that reduces emotional distress whilst tending to people’s basic, practical needs
  • Assistance for people to positively adapt to a new normal

'Emergency' means something different to each of us, we all go through emergencies every day. While my training has focused on acute events, it is applicable to everyday life, checking in on each other, taking the time to hear someone’s challenge, and allow them to explore their potential ways forward in a safe environment.

The training doesn’t just focus on helping others, it is just as much about you as an individual too, applying the tips and tricks to be more resilient to life’s challenges.

What are some tips you would give to a person going through a tough time?

Speak out to a friend or a colleague early on. As humans we love to see just how big we can make a problem, overthinking until it implodes on us. I know I struggle to reach out, but the more we reach out, the more normal it becomes to share our struggles, and help each other to process our thoughts.

We can all do our part by checking in with each other, be that family, friends, colleagues, even the stranger that you start up a conversation with next time you are out getting a coffee. It is as simple as asking R U OK?.

At an individual level, there are many different tricks and tools we can use every day to help us through. I was introduced to one recently which really resonated with me - the TEAR model by Nicola Huelin:

  • Your thoughts create your emotions
  • Your emotions drive your actions
  • Your actions lead to your results

If you can begin by controlling your thoughts, you can then start to create your emotions.

For more on Mental Health Awareness Week and mental health resources, you can visit the official Mental Health Foundation website.