Alena Ferrugia is the National Consultant Trainer of Youth & Teen Programs at Mental Health First Aid Australia and the Founder of Beyond Limits Learning Clinic. With a background in Psychology and a passion for education, Alena’s mission is to provide educational assistance for people experiencing a range of cognitive, learning and social behaviour difficulties.
Beyond Limits Learning Clinic offers Mental Health First Aid Training. Can you tell us more about what this means?
Mental Health First Aid is the help provided to a person who is developing a mental health illness, or who is in a mental health crisis – for example the person is suicidal or has had a traumatic experience.
Much like physical first aid, mental health first aid is given until the person receives professional help, or until the crisis is resolved.
What sparked your inspiration and passion for founding Beyond Limits Learning Clinic?
Beyond Limits Learning Clinic’s development has been very organic. In 2010 I was asked by a colleague if I could assist her with a client she was working with, a young boy who had autism and required assistance with his school work.
From there I developed programs for remedial tuition. This was the primary service for the clinic for a few years before formalising the training we were delivering to families. Eventually we restructured towards delivering professional development and accredited courses.
Ultimately, no one should have to lose their child due to mental health – whether they are 16, 33 or 53 we are all someone’s child.
I am very blunt and upfront about that. Some people shy away from perhaps uncomfortable topics, but they need to understand that doesn’t help at all. We must call it out, confront it and own it. It’s the only way forward without the fear.
I have the ability to educate, and the experience to create opportunities for empathy. So I see it as my duty really to use my skills to help those around me – just as we all do with the skills and gifts individual to us.
Were there challenges setting up Beyond Limits Learning Clinic and how did you overcome them?
Being seen amongst all the noise and cash splashing would have to be one of the biggest challenges.
There is an overwhelming number of people without clinical, practical or educational experience mis-informing people, particularly now with the rise of social media and its influence on business.
Our social media is present but by no means a focus. Our funds and time are better spent investing in the community we’re trying to help – our clients.
As a small business with expertise and a clear care focus you genuinely have very little time to worry about gaining invisible followers and or likes, but it’s become part of the deal so you really need to work with it.
From a personal perspective, finding the balance between work and life is important to me. Maybe balance isn’t the right term, more like flow or pattern. Balance seems a little idealistic and I’m much more of a realist!
I work until I can’t keep my eyes open like so many other working mothers. Work isn’t always a priority but it does scream pretty loudly for attention. Finding that flow between family, ‘you-time’ and work is a tricky one but arguably the one worth working toward all else.
Can you think of a time that fear held you back from taking action? How did you move past that barrier?
Yes, most definitely! In the early stages of the business the investments required as a boot strap were significant. Investing in myself first was the hardest, I saw it as a luxury rather than smart business.
Upon reflection it was all a fear of rejection: ‘What if they say no?’ ‘What if I’m not seen as successful?’ ‘What if people find out it didn’t go to plan?’ ‘Ultimately, what if I do all of this and it doesn’t work?!’
Ironically it wasn’t ever a doubt about my ability, it was always about other people’s perception of me or my efforts. Now as a (only very slightly) older individual I see that this was quite mis-guided and counterproductive.
That all shifted for me after a business conference I attended in Sydney. I walked away quite unexpectedly questioning my mission and my purpose.
By becoming clear on my purpose and what I wanted to achieve with BLLC I was able to ‘do business’ differently and more confidently.
I surrounded myself with like minded people and made tough decisions about the type of people I wanted to be around and work with. I really began to see my value in a way I hadn’t before and I’ll always be very grateful for that experience.
What would you identify as your biggest strengths that drive you forward?
My biggest Strengths are the determine and true passion for the service I provide. Business is hard even when it looks glamorous and polished.
I won’t shy away from a challenge – whether that is courage or stubbornness I’m not sure but it’s most definitely served me well!
I really believe that if you can’t back yourself, how can you expect others to?!
What would you say to someone experiencing mental health challenges who feel like there is no way forward?
There is a way forward. Even if you can’t see it now, the people around you do and will for you until you are able to.
Alena thank you for sharing your insight into Mental Health First Aid. Education around this topic is becoming more detailed by the day.
For those who aren’t sure who to reach out to whilst they wait for professional help, it’s amazing to know that Mental Health First Aid providers like yourself are there to support people.
Emily-Rose Braithwaite ~ Life Coach
Featured photos by Man Down Photography