EP 2: Ben Higgs on mental health first aid

If someone told you they weren’t OK, would you know how to respond? Would you know what to do? Ben tells us what mental health first aid is and about the Mental Health First Responder workshop. He shares what it’s like for him living with bipolar depression and how he and his wife handle the rougher times.

Asking, “How are you?” is a really common way we greet each other. Don’t you think, though, that we get a sense from the person asking, whether or not they’re wanting to hear the truth?

If more people knew how to handle someone saying they’re not OK, would it make them more comfortable with hearing the truth and therefore more open for a real connection? I think for some people that would be true.

Ben is the founder of the Rise Foundation Australia and runs the Mental Health First Responder workshop. Learning about mental health first aid is what gives us the confidence to know we can handle a situation where someone is not OK, which could, in turn, maybe have us be more open to allowing people to speak their truth if they sense that we’re open to hearing it.  

That’s why the Mental Health First Responder workshop can serve such a great purpose and be a vehicle towards greater connection.

Ben Higgs mental health first aid

DnM quotes from Ben

(7:06) “We place such a high importance on physical first aid, but for what goes on in people’s heads, we’ve never really had it.”

(8:09) “We can actually help people. We can actually have these conversations with people. It’s just about sharpening some tools, and opening ourselves up to the fact that we are all connected in what we go through and that’s why we can help people. Just like if someone has a cut or a broken leg, we can help them without being a doctor.”

(12:19) “A lot of us do feel this responsibility that we’ve got to fix people, but we can’t do that. We can’t be with someone 24/7 … I’m not a doctor, I’m not a psychologist … that doesn’t mean I can’t help someone. If I can’t help them myself, I can always point them in the right direction or pass on some resources — even just having that at hand is invaluable.”

(13:51) “We all lead busy lives and we get all consumed with what’s going on for us personally, but if we can step back and just start to notice the different changes in people — both good or bad — and actually start to have these proper conversations with someone; not just these throw away comments that we’re hoping not to really get an in depth answer to, because we just want to tick that box that we’ve done it.”

(14:14) “We ask people are they OK, but maybe sometimes we’re hoping that they just say yes whether they are or not because it gives us an easy out. But we do need to be prepared and ready if somebody says, ‘No, I’m not OK’.

(14:56) “ ‘How can I help?’ It sounds so simple and silly to think that could be the most important question we could ask.”  

(16:29) “If I see someone on the street I always try and nod hello, especially if it’s someone that looks like they’re down on their luck, just to give someone the time of day to say, ‘Hey yeah, I do notice you there. You’re not invisible.’ And for me it’s something small that takes no time at all, but we don’t know what it could mean to someone else.”

(22:00) “I consider the medication a safety net. It’s not a cure. It’s just another piece of the puzzle. I like to call it scaffolding. So, all these little things are scaffolding because what does scaffolding do? It supports a building as we’re trying to rebuild it. And that’s what I’m trying to do all the time, continually rebuild and grow as a person … I’ve learned what works well for me and what doesn’t … I still have the highs and lows. I’ve become better at managing them and noticing them earlier on.”

(24:37) “At the start of Corona I had a massive melt down. I had 3 days in bed, and part of all of this is that I’ve just got to accept it. I’ve just got to accept that that may happen. After a couple of days I’ve allowed myself to feel that, now it’s time to start those wheels rolling again and putting all of these things back into place.”  

(27:40) “I’ve got a good mate. Each day we text each other a number, between 0 and 50, and that’s now much weight we’re carrying on our shoulders at the time — how much things are weighing us down; how much is going on in life — so, just a daily check in. And we know, from 40 kilos and up to 50 it’s, ‘Get in your car and come and see me’. ”

Mentioned in this mental health first aid episode

Jungle Brothers
Don Richie
Kevin Hines

Connect with Ben Higgs

Ben Higgs is the founder and director of Rise Foundation Australia. He uses his lived experience with mental illness to powerfully engage as a speaker and mental health instructor for adults and youth. Ben is passionate about moving beyond mental health awareness, to education of the practical tools we can all use to assist ourselves and others, so that we can stop living in silence when suffering with poor mental health.