How Our Mental Health First Aiders Have Helped Support Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace
As you have read in previous blogs, at Forms Plus we take our health and wellbeing seriously. Earlier this year we were delighted to receive a Healthy Workplace Gold Award in recognition of the actions we have taken as a team to promote good health at work.
Alongside our efforts to improve our physical health, we have also started to pay more attention to supporting mental health at work. With the WHO marking World Suicide Prevention Day on 10 September, and World Mental Health Day coming up on the 10th October, this seemed like a good time to share our learnings.
The Office for National Statistics recently released figures (reported in The Guardian) announcing that the rate of suicides in the UK in 2018 was up 11.8% on the previous year with 6,507 suicides recorded. Suicide is the leading cause of death in England in adults younger than 50 and the rate is around three times higher amongst men. For every person that takes their life, another 10–20 will make a suicide attempt.
Very often suicide is linked to an existing mental health condition, but often it occurs following some kind of traumatic experience, which can be related to the workplace. The TUC and the Samaritans have found that contributing factors to workplace stress, which might lead to such an event, include job insecurity, restructuring and downsizing and zero hours contracts.
Sometimes the contributing factors can be less dramatic. Issues can also arise from feeling pressure to meet sales targets, hit deadlines or compete with others who seem to be having more success. Stress, anxiety and depression are the biggest causes of sickness absence in the workplace, so there is also an operational benefit to addressing these issues.
Regardless of whether work is a major cause of someone’s mental health problems, we spend much of our lives at work, so employers and colleagues can clearly take steps to support mental wellbeing, and perhaps, contribute to suicide prevention. At Forms Plus we decided to do that by appointing and training two Mental Health First Aiders.
Sharon and Jo both completed the 3-day course a few months ago. Focussing on listening and offering direction, the training gave them both the confidence to take on the role and our team have really started to feel the benefit.
Sometimes being a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA), just means keeping an active eye out for someone who may need a bit of extra support. If a team member looks as if they are having a bad day, the MHFA may email them privately to see if they fancy a short walk and talk. Sharon tells us that this offer is often picked up right away. Sometimes the person approached might initially decline, then come back later and take the opportunity for a chat. The most important part of the MHFA role is then to be a good, calm listener.
As well as keeping an eye out for people who may need support, at Forms Plus we also try to pre-empt any problems through our “Well Walks”. The MHFA simply picks a name out of a hat and goes for a short walk with the colleague chosen, which could be anyone. The walk could just be an opportunity for some fresh air and exercise, or a chat about what they are doing at the weekend, but it also provides a chance to discuss family or relationship issues, workplace challenges, or anything else that might be impacting on mental health.
Whilst the emphasis for the MHFA is on listening rather than solving problems, their role also extends to offering direction as to where to go for support. When Jo and Sharon come across a problem, they will often do some research and provide links or phone numbers that may help. Sharon explains that whilst of course the team member could often find that information themselves, having someone pass on a website or phone number might give them the push they need to actually get in touch.
Normally the relationship between the MHFA and the person they are helping is based on full confidentiality. The only exception to this might be if the person is seriously at risk, or if the mental health issue could be helped by changes in the workplace. If Jo or Sharon believe that sharing the information with someone else at work might help, they will always suggest the team member speaks to the right person, or ask permission to do that for them if they prefer.
We are really happy to have Mental Health First Aiders at Forms Plus. Posters in our staff areas remind us that there is always someone to speak to. They are both very approachable, calm and caring. Whether we choose to seek out MHFA support or not, having two trained Mental Health First Aiders on our team has opened up discussions and given us all the feeling that it is OK to talk about mental health in the workplace. Sharon and Jo both enjoy the work and especially love seeing the transformation when they have been able to help someone.
If you would like to find out more about Mental Health First Aid training do visit the MHFA website or to download a really useful Activity Pack for Workplaces marking World Mental Health Day ,visit the Time to Change website.
Alternatively get in touch and Sharon or Jo would be happy to talk to you about their experience.