Mental health matters
According to charity Mind, mental health issues such as anxiety and depression affect at least one in six workers. As part of a range of tools and initiatives for wellbeing in the workplace, Motion recently invested in senior manager training to support its teams of employees. Following attendance at a two-day Workplace Mental Health first aid course run by St John Ambulance, Phil Allen is now a qualified Workplace Mental Health First Aider and Responder.
He spoke to the Motion Insight team about his motivation for volunteering for the role, the importance of acknowledging the issue in the first instance and lending a supportive ear to colleagues and friends who may be struggling.
Why do we need Mental Health First Aiders in the workplace?
Phil: It is important for colleagues to know that there is someone they can talk to and be offered a safe space to discuss their issues. For too long there has been a stigma attached to mental health. No-one should feel they are battling these challenges alone. As a Mental Health First Aider, I can be there for colleagues, listen to them, reassure them and help shoulder their burden.
Why did you volunteer for the role?
Phil: I wanted to be able to help my colleagues in the moment when they might be feeling completely isolated and alone. I already had an understanding of how mental health issues can arise but wanted to be able to do more to help others. Mental health challenges are varied, personal to every individual and can be brought about by all sorts of issues, whether they be at home, at work or in our personal lives. It is also important to recognise that mental health issues are not confined to one space and can affect us at all times.
What types of support are available through the initiative?
Phil: Workplace Mental Health First Aiders are a point of contact for any employee who is experiencing mental health challenges or emotional distress. A Mental Health First Aider is not trained to be a counsellor or to prescribe specific actions but is there to be the first point of contact for anyone who wants to talk. The role could range from having an initial conversation, ensuring that the person is not at risk to themself or others, through to signposting and supporting them to access appropriate help from trained professionals and organisations.
Where can you have the most impact?
Phil: The greatest impact I can have is to be there for my colleagues so that they can unburden themselves from something that can be having a profound effect on their lives. It is imperative that I help them to acknowledge that what they are experiencing is completely normal, that there is a way through it and I will be there to help them find it. It is important to demonstrate that I will stand shoulder to shoulder with my colleagues for as long as I am needed.
What is your message to anyone who might have an issue they want to discuss?
Phil: In the first instance, seek help from your local Mental Health First Aider and take the opportunity to start talking about how you feel – it really does help. People carry mental health like a problem they cannot share but as soon as they sit down with someone and start talking, the weight lifts. Through sharing the issue with someone else, you are empowering them to help you and that can be extremely positive on its own.
Have we got better at talking about our feelings?
Phil: Yes, and no. Men, in particular, find it more difficult to open up. Unfortunately, a lot of them find it very hard to understand their feelings, let alone discuss them with others. The good news is there is much more awareness about mental health these days and it is acknowledged that mental health challenges can be as debilitating as physical health issues. The younger generations are also much more empowered and in tune with their feelings. However, the emotional pressure on young people nowadays is extraordinary, especially with the influence of social media.
Humans are incredibly resilient and very good at battling on and portraying an image of being calm and in control at all times. But we can often be struggling on the inside. I often think of the swan seemingly serenely gliding across a lake but we don’t see their legs paddling away under the surface. I think we all place pressure on ourselves to be like the serene swan, especially in front of our employers, colleagues and friends. However, sometimes we need to acknowledge the struggles going on under the surface and not be ashamed to show them to others.
What would you say to anyone who might be interested in becoming a Workplace Mental Health First Aider and Responder?
Phil: I would say the training has served two purposes for me. The first and most important is that it is already helping me to assist others on their journey to seeking the support they deserve. However, it has also enabled me to better understand mental health in general. I would thoroughly recommend it.