Katharine Lonsdale

The first time I heard the phrase and learnt about the concept of Making Every Contact Count, I worked within the Service Access Team at N-Compass. I was participating in a Connect 5 training session and the trainer Gaynor, a wonderful and wise woman, explained that Making Every Contact Count is an approach that attempts to harness the potential for engagement through the millions of contacts we have with people accessing services. Gaynor explained this might mean taking a little extra time to ensure the person has understood the next steps, asking if they would like further information about another issue that arose in the conversation, picking up on cues that perhaps belied their initial response of “I’m fine”. At that point I had a realisation about myself, ‘I do this! This is me! I make every contact count’.

The course was set and now, around two years later, I deliver Connect 5 training to professionals and volunteers in Fylde and Wyre in Lancashire. I love my job and learn as much as I teach from each session I deliver. I learn about how the approaches and knowledge I am offering about mental health conversations translate into everyday practice for people, what is practicable and useful, what barriers and blocks there are too, and how these are overcome.

It seems clear that one of the main barriers for most public-serving professionals is time or lack thereof. It is hard to offer mindful, holistic, and compassionate attention in a moment where your inner voice is reminding you that you are late for the next appointment, that you are due in a meeting you haven’t prepared for, that you are hungry, tired and fed up. It is hard to feel able to ask a question about someone’s mental health when you have no idea how best to support them, and you are scared to open something up that is potentially going to leave the person even more at risk.

Oh, and did I mention the fact we are experiencing a global pandemic?

For me, this is where the MECC for Mental Health approach offers an effective solution and RSPH has done a great job at developing a training programme that can help embed it in everyday practice.

I am already a trainer for MECC in Lancashire and South Cumbria. The train the trainer program I attended was another affirmation that my approach aligns entirely with what this movement is trying to achieve. A key ethos of MECC in its more general form is behaviour change. It recognises that our lifestyle choices impact hugely on our health outcomes, whilst acknowledging the inequalities that exist in our communities around health and wellbeing, and most importantly, it argues that is only fair and right that everybody understands this and has equal access to support to make changes.

However, we know that often, the triggers of unhelpful, harmful, and even dangerous lifestyle choices are a result of the mental states we are experiencing at that time. We also know that susceptibility to poor mental health and mental illness are heavily influenced by those same social determinants mentioned above. If we consider the cycle of thoughts and feelings that we can get trapped in, including the lack of value we place on our health and the habits we have learnt to soothe ourselves that our counterproductive to good health, we then realise that having this insight is a gift that everyone should receive. Everyone should be more compassionate towards themselves and others, laying the foundations for those other building blocks of good health to be built. 

The MECC for Mental Health program delivers the knowledge and skills people need to be able to provide very brief interventions that can help people achieve this gift of insight, as well as practical information about how best to help in a safe and appropriate way. Every individual is different, everyone’s mental health is entirely their own, and every contact is influenced by the dynamic between two individuals. This training course encompasses common themes and teaches them in an accessible and reflective way.

I was very happy to be involved in the MECC for mental health training project. My role as a Lead Trainer involves delivering the train the trainer program to our cohort of trainers across Lancashire and South Cumbria. With the support of RSPH, we have got off to a flying start and are at the stage now where we are setting dates to deliver to our first group of trainers.

We know there are challenges ahead, and we know that preventative mental health training might not be top of the agenda at this current time. However, we also know that there is so much fantastic mental health support available in Lancashire and South Cumbria and we want to help build the bridges to get to those who really need it.