mental health support in the workplace with mental health first aiders

Why supporting mental health in the workplace is so important

This Mental Health Awareness week, we reached out to our Mental Health First Aiders to ask about their role within Unitas and why workplace wellbeing is so important.

At Unitas, we’ve always been passionate about promoting health and wellbeing in the workplace, and we have a dedicated Wellbeing Team that provide support to our staff.

Danny, an Operational Team Leader at Unitas Stoke-on-Trent, was at a Wellbeing Team meeting when he asked about Mental Health First Aid Training.

“We were discussing the idea and I was very interested. Once it was approved by the board, I immediately put myself forward.”

Chris works as a Maintenance Assistant across a number of different departments and volunteered for the role.

“An email was sent out asking for volunteers to take part in Mental Health First Aid training and I thought it was a good idea.”

“I have family members with a history of mental illness, so it was really important to me.”

Danny and Chris attended the Mental Health First Aid training and were both surprised at how many others on the course had experienced some kind of mental ill health, personally or by someone they care about.

Danny said: “I didn’t realise how close it was for everyone involved. Everyone has had their own struggles.”

 

According to Mental Health First Aid England, In 2018/19, stress, depression or anxiety were responsible for 44% of all cases of work-related ill health and 54% of all working days lost due to health issues in Great Britain. Mental Health First Aid has been widely discussed in the last few years, especially when it comes to supporting people in the workplace, but not everyone understands what it means in action.

“The biggest part of my role is reassurance. Being a Mental Health First Aider means being there for someone to talk to, to give them guidance, and point them to the right resources,” said Chris.

The Wellbeing Team at Unitas provide the First Aiders with posters, cards and materials they can place around the office or depot, with wellbeing advice, information about different organisations and their contact details for people to access.

Danny said: “People can call me for advice or just a general chat. It’s about getting that problem off your chest.”

“Sometimes, it’s about keeping your eye out; seeing if people are acting differently, and checking in.”

 

The pandemic has had a huge impact on people’s mental health over the last year, particularly when it comes to employment and finances. In a study carried out by the Mental Health Foundation, they found that one third (32.66%) of UK adults say they are worrying about their finances, such as bill payments and debt.

“It’s been difficult, because of Covid, to keep on top of people’s wellbeing like I normally would, but this is why the phone calls are so important,” Danny said.

A recent survey showed that 20% of people had gone to work while experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings. With the Mental Health First Aid training, Chris felt more equipped to support the members of his team who we’re struggling.

“During lockdown, I spoke to a couple of people who felt suicidal and without the training it would have been very difficult to properly support them,” Chris said.

“It’s possible that without the Mental Health First Aiders in place they wouldn’t have had anyone to talk to. Thankfully, they know it’s there and they were able to talk about it early on.”

One of the most significant things Chris and Danny have taken from their experience as Mental Health First aiders, is that mental ill health and distress can affect anybody.

Chris said: “It surprised me just how many people do struggle, and it’s such a broad variety of people too – the people you least expect. It can affect anybody.”

“Sometimes it’s not even about work, I’ve dealt with people looking for some general reassurance to issues of bereavement.”

Danny said: “We all have problems, and some small problems can affect people in big ways.”

“Everyone’s different, we all deal with it differently, but so long as people are aware that the option is there for them – they can use it.”

 

With 1 in 4 people experiencing mental health issues each year, and the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic still affecting us daily, we asked Danny and Chris why supporting the mental health of their colleagues was so important to them.

Danny said:I’ve seen how beneficial it is to have someone to talk to – one hundred per cent. Knowing that there is someone there to help guide you in the right direction, that the option is there if you need it, that’s the most important thing.”

“I feel it’s so important, especially during lockdown. It’s given me a bigger insight and better knowledge to support the people around me – at home and at work,” Chris said.

“Attitudes are definitely changing for the better. People should know they don’t have to deal with it on their own.”

More from Mental Health First Aid England

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