Mental health has never been more important than it is now. While many people have become more comfortable with talking about their experiences, there are countless more who are still hesitant to speak out for fear of being judged. When someone takes the time to address mental health, it can be extremely powerful and help to spread more compassion around the subject.
Compassion is a core tenant of being a superhero. And few superheroes are more empathetic than Wonder Woman. Strong, brave and resolute, Diana Prince has all the qualities of a mental health advocate. That’s why she’d made an excellent mental health first aider.
What is mental health first aid?
Mental health first aid (MHFA) is an internationally recognised course that teaches people how to spot the symptoms of disorders like depression or psychosis. Mental health first aiders are equipped to provide ongoing support for those in a mental health crisis. They aim to reduce stigma around mental illness and create a supportive environment.
A champion for mental health
As a long-lived Amazonian princess, Wonder Woman has years of experience to draw from when applying MHFA. When approaching someone in a mental health crisis, she’d use the following action plan:
A – Approach the person, assess and assist with any crisis.
L – Listen and communicate non-judgmentally.
G – Give support and information.
E – Encourage the person to get appropriate professional help.
E – Encourage other supports.
The ALGEE method is the core of MHFA. Let’s take a closer look at each point and how Diana would use it to help someone in distress:
During the first action, she’d approach the person about her concerns and try to find a suitable time and space that works for them. But at the same time, she’d respect their privacy while initiating a conversation around how they are feeling.
In the listening stage, Diana would drop any pre-conceived judgements about the person and their situation. She’d express empathy towards them while actively listening. Once the individual felt more comfortable and listened to, Diana would move on to giving emotional support or relevant information about mental health.
In the fourth stage, Wonder Woman would try to empower the person to seek professional help. This could involve suggesting different options about medication or therapy. In the final stage, she’d try to encourage them to get help on their own terms.
Empowering people to make their own decisions
In order to carry out ALGEE, Wonder Woman would remove all traces of her frame of reference (FOR). Also known as ‘the window to the world,’ FOR can be described as the experiences that each person has developed over time. Diana’s FOR is growing up on Themyscira. It’s fighting in countless battles and dedicating her life to protecting mankind. It’s coloured her perception of the world. Therefore, her frame of reference would be completely different to Superman’s or Batman’s.
During MHFA it’s important to remove frame of reference and understand that a person’s mental health disorder is rational for them. It would be extremely unhelpful for Wonder Woman to say ‘I know how you’re feeling’ to someone who engages in self-harm because the only person who truly understands that feeling is the sufferer. It would also be unhelpful to think of someone’s mental health disorder and their coping strategies as irrational. It could lead to them becoming more distressed.
Another MHFA discipline that Wonder Woman would apply is called the layers of listening. This can be split into four stages:
• Cosmetic – Best described as pretending to listen and not really paying attention.
• Conversational – This is general communication. People listen to each other, talk and think about their responses. But half of concentration is spent thinking about how to answer.
• Active – This involves putting more effort into processing information and listening. The listener mentally registers facts and actively seeks to understand what the person is telling them.
• Deep – This is the highest form of listening and used by psychiatrists and therapists.
When applying MHFA, Wonder Woman would focus on active listening. This is because the job of a mental health first aider isn’t to give advice or try to ‘fix’ the person. It’s to facilitate motivation around a sufferer finding the help that works for them.
Mental health first aiders aren’t psychiatrists. They provide a welcoming ear when needed but understand that recovery can only happen when a person gets helps on their own terms.
Talking openly about mental health is one of the best ways to inspire change and support. With her compassion and empathy, Wonder Woman would have no trouble giving MHFA to anyone who wanted it.
(I learned this information by completing MHFA training through MHFA England. I’d highly recommend the course.)