Originally from an area just outside of near Belfast, Northern Ireland, Ali Vondy left home at the age of 26, determined to make a difference.

“I spent 3.5 years working in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa. I met my now-husband in the DRC. He is Manx, born and bred, and after we got married 25 years ago, we moved to the Isle of Man. We have lived here ever since.”

Vondy started Manx Minds 3 years ago.

“I had travelled to England to complete Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training for myself. I then trained as a MHFA Instructor in order to be able to deliver this excellent, evidence-based mental health training program – making it available to anyone right here on the Isle of Man.”

“Manx Minds is my own mental health and wellbeing training company. I am the sole owner and operator and provide support for businesses, government, educational institutions, charities, and the general public, in person on the Isle of Man and England, as well as online across the world via Zoom.”

Mental Health First Aid was first developed in Australia in 2001 by husband-and-wife Professor Anthony Jorm and Betty Kitchener when they realized that there was no mental health equivalent to physical first aid. The couple then designed an internationally recognized program of simple steps that can be used to help those in distress. The program is now offered in over 20 countries around the world.

Sadly, the shame attached to mental health issues is still widespread.

“Although things are improving, stigma still exists around mental ill health,” states the Manx Minds website. “As a society, we don’t tend to know how to take care of our mental health like we do our physical health. This means that people may not know how to support a friend, family member, or colleague who is experiencing a mental health issue, or where to go for support with their own mental health.

“It is estimated that 1 in 3 people on the Isle of Man could be affected by a mental health issue. This is a problem of epidemic proportions which is going largely unnoticed. It is agreed that early intervention needs to play a part in tackling this.”

The company’s core mandate is threefold; promoting positive mental health for all, providing excellence in training, and tackling stigma and discrimination around mental health.

“Manx Minds is working to better inform our delegates about mental health issues – how to respond in a crisis, support individuals until professional help can be accessed and promote recovery.”

The training – which largely consists of one and two-day classes, as well as a condensed half-day seminar – is open to all.

“It is important to note, however, that Manx Minds training is not therapeutic in nature,” shares Vondy. “Courses are not designed to help someone currently experiencing a mental health issue themselves. Nonetheless, people who have had personal or close experience of mental health issues are often more empathetic to people experiencing problems, although it is not necessary to have had mental health issues to be able to help someone. All the MHFA/Manx Minds courses are designed for everyone, whatever their level of experience.”

Both the public and private sectors are starting to take notice.

“In 2021, one of Manx Minds corporate clients (Tower Insurance IOM) offered to sponsor training for senior students (ages 16-18) in every high school across the Isle of Man, to provide a basic Mental Health Awareness course. The hope is that completing this course will proactively tackle attitudes towards mental health as well as help young people to help and support each other when they experience challenges and difficulties.”

The program is set to continue through 2022.

“Funding from other sources has been secured to extend the training to further cohorts of students as well as to the general public. Manx Minds is committed to tackling discrimination in the area of mental health through better training and awareness. I truly believe that this type of training – as well as encouraging honest and open dialogue about mental health – can help to preserve life, prevent harm, and promote recovery.”