Mental Health Training

Bill Cunningham

Bill Cunningham is a psychologist who has been delivering mental health awareness training to the public, across the UK and Ireland, since 2007.

He was one of the first Mental Health First Aid instructors in England and has delivered courses to diverse groups in community, corporate and public settings ever since. This included working with officers and prisoners in prisons and extensive work training mental health advocates for Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service.

From 2009 to 2017 Bill was a National Trainer for the MHFA England CIC and trained 30 cohorts of new MHFA instructors, including 30 prison officers, to deliver the course in community and workplace settings.

As a Director of the Golden Tree Wellbeing CIC, he developed training courses using techniques derived from Cognitive Behavioural Theory, Mindfulness and Positive Psychology to help provide people with proactive tools to promote positive wellbeing. He has also designed courses delivered to NHS staff in Cumbria and to the armed forces community at Catterick Garrison.

From 2017 to 2019 he worked for the Saint John of God Hospital, Dublin. The hospital holds the licence to deliver MHFA in Ireland and his role as National Trainer involved delivering the training in the community and in corporate setting all over Ireland. He also developed the training materials and designed the MHFA Ireland instructor training programme, delivering three cohorts. In this role, he delivered a programme of courses for police officers (An Garda Siochana) several of whom went on to train as instructors. He remains an Associate Trainer for MHFA Ireland.

He is a member of the British Psychological Society, the Psychological Society of Ireland and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

How have you taken care of your own mental health and wellbeing since the start of the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic?

As a trainer a great deal of my time over the last 14 years has been taken up with travelling across the UK and in Ireland. When the lockdown began, I realised that there would be no face to face work for quite some time. I knew that I would need to have the ability to deliver online so I got busy in my loft digging out sound equipment I have had for years and ordered a webcam. That took several weeks to arrive from China so in the meantime I kept myself entertained recording ambient music that I put together using an app on my tablet and some free software I downloaded to my computer. I also learned to edit video and uploaded a couple of films on to You Tube for people to use to help them relax. This was the kind of thing I used to do a lot when I was younger, and I enjoyed reconnecting with a more creative part of me.

The other thing I found allowed me to be more in the moment was cooking. I can now make my own savory pies, having conquered the art of making hot water pastry and I regularly can make a respectable Scotch Egg. Taking time out to concentrate on a task and to have something at the end of the process that I can share with those who are important to me ticks several of the boxes of the 5 Ways to Wellbeing and I know that this has been very important in keeping me well in these strange times.

How do you want to change the world?

A great deal of the research into mental health and wellbeing that has been conducted over the last few years has resulted in psychology moving further and further away from the medical model. The British Psychological Society published the Power Threat Framework in 2018 and it is best explained by saying that the most helpful thing to ask a person in emotional distress is not “what’s wrong with you?” but rather “what happened to you?” Trauma and inequality are being found to be far more of an issue in terms of the causes of mental health problems than any chemical imbalance. Fascinating work has be done on Acute Childhood Experiences which indicates that multiple exposure to physical trauma, psychological trauma, and neglect can make a person far more vulnerable to negative health outcomes, both physical and mental. We also now know that members of marginalised communities are more vulnerable to experiencing problems around psychosis.

So, if I am to answer the question about how I would change the world I would say:

  • I would like us to move to a more holistic approach to health which does not make distinctions based on any mental/physical split.
  • I would like governments to realise that an effective approach to improving any nation’s mental health and wellbeing needs to involve tackling social inequality across the board.

It is always good to have an understanding of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. People cannot thrive if their basic needs are not first met.


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