Last week we launched our pilot Mental Health First Aider network and this week it’s Mental Health Awareness Week – a great opportunity to shine the spotlight on some of the 40 colleagues who’ve stepped up to perform this vital role in our business.
We talk to Charis Kapodistria from Communications, Joanne Edwicker from the NBSC, Phil Evans from IT and Claus De Oliveira from the National Stock Centre in Swindon.
Information on how to access support from the MHFAs is available on our Wellbeing Portal.
Why is it important to have MHFAs?
Joanne: Mental health issues are usually invisible and there are individuals all around us who are suffering to some extent without anyone even realising. It is imperative that we work to remove the stigma attached to mental health issues and by having the MHFAs, we are more likely to get the message out there that it’s ok not to be ok and there is always someone to listen without judgement. Being able to spot the signs of someone who is struggling is a massive help and can make a whole world of difference.
A lot of people believe that those who are suffering won’t want to be approached - because it is ‘prying’ - but that often isn’t the case and it can be the opening that is so desperately needed. Many people who are suffering want to talk, but just don’t know how to get the conversation started. Being a MHFA isn’t about being nosey, it’s just about being there when sometimes there is no-one else.
Charis: It’s important because there’s a fine line between work-related issues and personal ones and a notion that the latter can’t be discussed or considered a factor that impacts work and vice versa. MHFAs bridge the gap between work and personal matters and enable colleagues to speak to someone other than their line manager, which can encourage people to reach out in a less formal setting.
Phil: Having MHFAs will allow colleagues who are experiencing mental health issues to talk in confidence with someone who can help them identify actions and sources of further help to aid their recovery.
What motivated you to volunteer for this role?
Phil: It was personal experience with friends and family and also my long standing involvement as a board member and Chair of a Mental Health charity. I recognise that all too often if a person’s mental health issues are covered up or ignored then this can seem like performance issues. A lot of colleagues doing the MHFA role have got similar experiences of being involved in voluntary work.
Claus: I like talking to and helping people and outside of work I’m doing counselling skills training. I had a strong desire to contribute to raising awareness and knowledge of mental health issues, changing attitudes and hopefully, helping to alter the experiences of colleagues who may be having problems for the better.
What training have the MHFAs had?
Phil: We had two days of training and a follow-up workshop. This has helped us to spot the symptoms of mental health issues, offer initial help in a caring and non-judgemental way and guide colleagues towards further support. Many of the MHFAs of course bring extra experience, skills and knowledge to the role from voluntary work that they do.
How will you be supported as a MHFA yourself - it could be a challenging role to perform?
Charis: Firstly, I’ve set some boundaries in terms of when I can receive a call or arrange a meeting. I also have my fellow MHFAs, who will no doubt be a great support network. The materials provided in the workshops will also help and of course, we can continue to draw on support and guidance from our colleagues in OH Assist and the H&S team.
What would you say to any colleague who is unsure about whether or not to approach an MHFA for help?
Joanne: I would explain the nature of the role and the confidentiality aspect. I would explain that we are not qualified counselors, but we have been trained to listen and to help them find a way forward.
Claus: Asking someone what is going on in their life, or how their feeling, doesn't mean that you have to solve the problem for them. Sometimes it is enough to just to sit, listen, empathize and don't judge. I would say that just having someone who takes the time to understand you even in a small way would be a real a great comfort. I might not necessarily change the way they are feeling, but I can assure them they are not alone, and I am there to help if they need it.
Phil: I would say quite simply that the conversation with the MHFA will be confidential and non-judgmental. It would help the colleague to decide if they needed to take any further action – it would then ultimately be their choice on how to move forward.