How many times in a day do you pause and check in on yourself – and perhaps your colleagues, friends and family too? As our busy lives continue and we find new ways of adapting to Covid-19, it can be easy to forget to take a second to reflect on the mental wellbeing of yourself and others around you.
A 9-month study by the Mental Health Foundation found that key indicators of distress are worse now than they were at the start of the pandemic. The extent of loneliness has risen from 10% in April to 25% in November, and those who say they’re copying well with stress has fallen steadily from 73% to 62%.
At ANSL, the mental wellbeing of our employees was something we couldn’t overlook, not under ‘normal’ circumstances and even less in the middle of a pandemic. We’re all familiar with the concept of physical first aid training at work. It’s been around for decades, but oftentimes, workplaces fail to take mental health just as seriously. Thanks to our partnership with Aviation Action, we were able to find the right training course to help our employees – the Mental Health First Aider programme organised by Aviation Action and provided by Mental Health England.
But what is a Mental Health First Aider, and what does this involve? We sat down with three of our fantastic team members, Laurie Richards, Brian Jack and Vicky Bhogal-Hunt, who took part in the course, to learn a little more about their experience and what it takes.
Hi Brian, so could you start by telling me a bit about the course?
The Mental Health First Aider course was about learning how to recognise if someone needs help and pointing them in the right direction, be it family, friends or professional help. Just as a first aider would send an ambulance. We’re not being trained as a psychiatrist, but we were taught how to provide the right support.
Laurie, as a shift worker, do you have any thoughts on how you’ll manage being a First Aider?
At the moment, because of the downgrade in traffic, we’re spread around the company and not too many people are in. So the watch managers organised a monthly Teams catch up where we can all log on and raise any issues we’re having.
We also each have a WhatsApp group where we can catch up and send each other funny messages. Modern technology is a great thing. Even if you’re not at work, there’s always ways and means to catch up, and this helps diffuse any issues we might have.
Vicky and Brian, you face a slightly different challenge as you’re currently working remotely only – how do you plan to be a virtual Mental Health First Aider?
We’ve been working virtually for such a long time now that you can gauge people’s moods online just as much as in person. Early on, everyone was putting on a ‘game face’, but now it’s easier to recognise if someone is struggling.
As we have quite a large team, we send the odd text or Teams message saying “are you okay? You seem different today, is anything you want to talk about?” It’s about recognising the nuances that you don’t expect someone to have.
What was interesting was that the course provided information on signs to looks out for. You learn to look out for indicators like personal hygiene, a change in environment, body language or having a camera switched off. In our team we’ve been keen to always have our cameras on so that we have eye contact.
What were your main learnings from the training course? Any highlights?
We had a session where we practised listening non-judgementally which gave me some great insights. They gave us information on what to say and what not to say back. You think you can help someone by giving them advice, but just listening and being empathetic is often more important than giving advice.
Active listening was the biggest one. But also finding out the different levels of mental health issues and reading case studies. I could even relate to them myself. I didn’t realise some things were mental issues, I thought it was just life, a little hiccup to get through. But I understood quite quickly that actually if you had a few of those little issues, it becomes one big, mental health issue. That was quite enlightening.
It gave us the knowledge to look after ourselves as well. It’s like physical first aid – you’ve got to help yourself before you help others. The course gave us triggers – perhaps I’m a little bit depressed or down today. It’s the ability to bounce back from those issues and ensure that you’re mentally stable enough to help
How valuable do you think it would be for an organisation to invest in this training? Would you recommend this course?
Definitely do it. If you can help others, why not do it. It really opens your eyes up to the fact that there are many people out there that need support. At the moment I think we all just need a chat. Every person goes through mental health issue at some point in their life, and if we all have these skills it can only be a good thing.
I can’t see why any company wouldn’t have mental health first aiders at arm’s reach. I know personally that if one of my colleagues was suffering in silence and the course wasn’t available at my company, they could just literally be sat in silence until they couldn’t take anymore. And that’s a horrible thought.
The vision of theMental Health First Aider course is to create a society in which mental health is accepted as a normal part of life. They want to make sure that everyone has the skills to look after their own and other people’s wellbeing. It’s a relief carrying on that message and providing support to my colleagues.
Thank you all for your insights!
We would like to give a special mention to the Mental Health First Aider, Paula Power who led the course, and Aviation Action for connecting us with Mental Health England.
If you would like to support Aviation Action or to find our what support the Charity can offer, visit www.aviationaction.org.