Ambassador voices: How to make a Mental Health First Aid Box
My name is Maria Sharp. I study English Literature, German and Law. I am delighted to work with The Mix to help make reliable mental health resources widely available to young people.
Lockdown is coming to an end and everyone seems giddy with the news. My July calendar is already crammed with invites to coffee shops and clubs.
It should be a relief. But I am struggling to picture a post-covid future.
So, let’s focus on the now. Whilst social distancing continues, we all get lonely. Are you struggling to find effective coping mechanisms that can be done alone? Let me share my favourite exercise to combat loneliness with you. I want you to make yourself a Mental Health First Aid Box (MHFAB).
What is a Mental Health First Aid Box?
Exactly what it sounds like! A mental health first aid box is a box of games, comfort items and toys that will help alleviate difficult emotions, such as loneliness, anxiety, depression or disassociation.
They are helpful for everyone. You don’t need a formal diagnosis.
How do I make a Mental Health First Aid Box?
- If you’re crafty, you can decorate a cardboard box, or just use a tote bag.
- I recommend making a big box to keep in your room, and a grab sized one that is small enough to carry in your bag/pockets.
- It should be chock full of bits and bobs that will put a smile on your face.
- Personalise it to your individual emotional needs.
What do I put in my Mental Health First Aid Box?
- Include stuff that will soothe, stimulate or ground you.
- Mostly, I struggle with feeling numb, so I have lots of grounding items. Sometimes, I get anxious, so I have some soothing stuff too. Every so often, my mood gets really low, so I have a few things that I find sensorily stimulating as well.
- It’s totally ok if you need a bit of everything.
Don’t worry if you still don’t get it. Below is a list of things you could include.
Ideas for your Mental Health First Aid Box
I’ve chosen these particular items because you probably already have a few. If you don’t, you can buy them cheaply and easily from your local supermarket.
If you want to splash some cash, there is some amazing stuff out there; my wish list includes a weighted blanket and a mini ball tent!
- TOUCH: Slime, putty, stress ball, squashies, beanie toys, fidget toys, fluffy toys, bendy or tactile key chains, marbles.
- TASTE: Sour candy, marshmallow treats, mints, gum.
- SMELL: Scented hand cream, candles, body spray, essential oils, potpourri.
- SOUND: Music box, foil, bell, tambourine, salt shaker.
- SIGHT: Fairy lights, Christmas decorations, bubbles, glitter, marbles, costume jewellery, beads, etch-a-sketch, crayons, colouring book, pictures of loved ones.
My own portable Mental Health First Aid Box
It takes a bit of trial and error to work out what to put in your portable MHFAB and what you can leave at home.
My recommendation is to incorporate things you might carry with you anyway. For example, a lip balm or key ring. This way, you don’t have to lug around a heavy bag.
My current favourites in my portable MHFAB are;
- Strongly scented lip balm – When I feel numb, I dig out my peppermint and orange lip balm. It is super zesty and fresh smelling and always rejuvenates and grounds.
- Fluffy key chain – My mini fluffy pom pom key chain is so soft and always soothes.
- Marble key chain – As you can tell I love key chains because they’re cheap and portable. My smooth glass marble key chain is always cold and reflects light which I find tactile and visually stimulating.
- Mini notebook – I always carry a planner with to-do lists and reminders; I couldn’t get through the day without it. Recently, I’ve started writing down little things that I’m grateful for or made me smile during the day.
This is great to look back on when I feel myself getting sad and I’m not able call a friend or go home. You can subtly glance at it during school or work if you need to.
If that’s not your thing, consider writing down inspiring quotes, jokes or words of encouragement.
My top tips for making a Mental Health First Aid Box
TOP TIP: Promise you won’t laugh? Ok good. A weird but affordable way to get your hands on stimulating stuff, if you don’t have it at home, is to buy baby toys.
I warned you it was weird. From my experience as a broke neuro divergent 18-year-old, baby toys are cheaper and more widely available than specially made sensory toys.
Also, they have cute patterns and are small enough to carry in your portable MHFAB! What’s not to like?!
TOP TIP: I am a perfectionist and struggle to make decisions, for fear that there is a more productive activity I could be doing.
Here’s my solution. I scribbled down all the things I wanted to do on a piece of paper, tore it up and put the scraps in a jar. Know where I’m going with this? It’s sort of like a lucky dip. Pop this jar in your MHFAB so you can refer to it when you get overwhelmed with options.
If you want to get fancy with it, break down your activities into five-minute jars, 30 minute jars and jars for activities that take about an hour.
TOP TIP: You know those naff Christmas cracker presents you always chuck away by Boxing Day? Hang on to them. Christmas crackers often have mini tactile games and nostalgic dad jokes that you might just be thankful next time you’re under-stimulated.
TOP TIP: This is a tip for my fellow neuro-divergent people out there. I don’t recommend doing a MHFAB activity for more than an hour. You don’t want to get hyper-fixated and end up getting burnt out.
If you need support
If loneliness is getting you down, talking to someone can really help. You may want to consider counselling to explore how you’re feeling. You can also contact our team for support and information on any issue – our services are free and confidential.
Head to our loneliness page for support and helpful resources – you don’t need to go through this alone.
- If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
- Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
- Student Minds is the UK's student mental health charity. Search their website for information, research, and to see how you could get involved.
- Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
- Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.
By Holly Turner
Updated on 22-Apr-2021
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