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Putting your own mental health ‘mask’ on before helping others

Cecilia’s mental health story began when she was just 12 years old, although like many others didn’t realise it at the time. It wasn’t until she was 16 that she sensed something wasn’t quite right. Despite feeling this way, she didn’t think she needed to seek help.  

‘I excused my feelings, believing they were just a part of life. Little did I know, I was nurturing a problem rather than addressing it.’ 

It wasn’t until Cecilia was 20 that she realised her feelings were a symptom of something more serious. The turning point in her story came during a Mental Health First Aid course.  

‘I saw it clearly on the slide in front of me: “Symptoms of anxiety”. It was more like a checklist than a slide to me.’ As she checked off each item, she began to understand that her symptoms were not just a ‘part of life’, and that she had been living with anxiety for many years.

‘I went into the Mental Health First Aid course thinking “I’m going to save everyone. I’m going to learn the skills and I’m going to be the hero”. I sat down and realised that I’m actually the one that needs to be saved.’ 

Mental health doesn’t discriminate  

Although Cecilia grew up in a time when conversations about mental health were common, and the message ‘mental health does not discriminate’ was widely promoted, she still found it challenging to acknowledge her own struggles.  

In Cecilia’s mind, mental health problems seemed inconceivable – she was someone who had friends, a great family, good grades. This misconception led her to believe that there couldn’t possibly be anything ‘wrong’ with her, and overshadowed the nights that she spent crying herself to sleep or moments when feelings of anxiety became too much.  

‘I grew into someone who was terrified to talk about it because I didn’t feel there was a particular reason,’ she recalls. It wasn’t until the Mental Health First Aid course that she realised that reason was psychological – and a diagnosable mental illness.’  

As Cecilia heard about the options available for people experiencing mental health problems, she realised the steps she needed to take. ‘It’s like someone handed me a map and said, “You’re here, and this is where you want to go. Here are some paths you could take.’  

After her visit to the GP, Cecilia booked her first appointment with a therapist and commenced her own mental health plan. She still lives with anxiety, but she now has coping mechanisms and action plans to help her better navigate her mental health. 

Having the skills to make a difference  

The Mental Health First Aid course not only helped Cecilia write a new chapter in her mental health story, but it also gave her the skills to be there for the people around her.  

She says the course has helped her be the person who follows up with others – the person who says ‘hey, you don’t seem like you, are you really okay?’ even after someone says they are. Whichever way those conversations go, being the person who follows up with others helps the people in her life realise that whenever they do need help, there is someone they can talk to.  

Cecilia sees the skills and knowledge she learnt play out in her own life, where she can seamlessly shift into the role of Mental Health First Aider during conversations with loved ones.  

‘It’s a nerve-wracking experience when someone you care about looks you in the eyes and says, “I’m not okay”. But having the skills, and having the resources, makes that conversation a lot easier.’  

Importantly, the course has given her permission to ask friends difficult questions in those moments – and the confidence to ask people if they are experiencing thoughts of suicide. 

‘These are not just questions or just words – they’re possibly lifelines.’  

Put your own mental health ‘mask’ on first 

The biggest lifeline the Mental Health First Aid course gave Cecilia was the prompt to prioritise her own mental health first.  

‘As someone who is so cautious of being selfish, focusing on myself first was difficult,’ she explains.  

‘I’m so happy I did because now I’m a stronger advocate. I’m a stronger friend. And I’m a stronger Mental Health First Aider.’  

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Read Other Stories

Explore our other stories below or go back to the MHFA Stories page.

Kellie’s Story

Kellie’s Story

When Kellie’s housemate came home from work, their behaviour seemed off. As a trained Mental Health First Aider, Kellie recognised something wasn’t right.

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Leesa’s Story

Leesa’s Story

Leesa, a member of the Mental Health First Aider Network since 2021, combines her hospitality experience with a passion for mental health advocacy, hosting a podcast to share and explore mental health stories.

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Jill’s Story

Jill’s Story

Jill, a nurse and seasoned Licensed MHFA Instructor has witnessed first-hand the profound impact that mental health first aid skills can have on healthcare and communities.

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