Mental health first aid – meeting the wellbeing challenge

18th June 2020 / BY / IN Wellbeing

Covid-19 is often spoken about in terms of its capacity for physical destruction. Across the world, governments have geared their social and public health policies towards containment and elimination, desperate to protect health services and prevent the loss of life. But what about the impact Covid-19 has had on our mental health?  

A mental health pandemic is running parallel to coronavirus. And the tragedy is that people with mental health conditions are feeling less supported. Their mental health struggles are increasing, and new mental health conditions are forming. People from all walks of life are contending with the mental strains of a world in lockdown. The mental health outbreak is less visible and not infectious, but equally as troubling. 

Careful consideration and meticulous planning are required if we are to cope with a crisis of wellbeing. But if the preparation needed is not taken seriously, it will bang into us like a speedbump – slowing down any progress made in the transition to a new normal. 

Mondrem have been working closely with our clients to help them prepare for the post-Covid-19 workplace. We’ve been helping them implement new working strategies, while also surveying their wellbeing. And it quickly became clear that the damage wrought by Covid-19 is significant. 

It’s something the Mondrem team have struggled with too – which is why we have weekly catchups to check in with each other. We are all wrestling with unique, but shared problems – whether it’s the pressure of childcare or finding a work-life balance. We actively listen to one another and provide support – our team meetings are a safe zone where authenticity is welcomed, and enthusiasm is nurtured.  

But what can be done to help organisations cope with the mental health pandemic? 

With this question in mind, I spoke to Marianne Jervis, a Mental Health First Aid Trainer. 

Mental health first aid is about listening, reassuring and responding. Marianne delivers the training needed to become qualified in mental health first aid and she has been doing this since August 2019. 

Marianne tells me about the importance of listening non-judgementally and having supportive conversations with those who are struggling with a mental health issue. 

“It’s about understanding that everyone is affected differently and having the confidence to respond to each person on an individual basis.” 

The purpose isn’t to diagnose, rather It’s about recognising the warning signs of mental ill health and signposting sources of professional help.   

“A lot of my work talks about developing a positive mental health culture in organisations – making sure staff teams are supported and that you support yourself too. 

“There is a general understanding that each organisation should have a number of staff who are trained in mental health first aid. This should be at every level, because some people don’t like approaching management about mental health.”  

The delivery of mental health first aid training came about in the early 21st century and since then, training courses have grown in popularity as society has become more open about mental health. 

But openness is still uncomfortable for many people: “It would be better if people were open about how they’re feeling, rather than saying ‘I’m fine’.”  

The provision of mental health first aid in the workplace could be better. An improvement Marianne suggested was increased signposting, namely local mental health provision. We also spoke about removing the stigma surrounding mental health – a stigma structurally ingrained within many organisations.  

On May 5, the Office of National Statistics reported that, since the end of 2019, the number of people suffering from high levels of anxiety has almost doubled.  

“There will be conditions that will be elevated by lockdown, such as PTSD. A lot of support will be needed for frontline workers.”  

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Those trained in mental health first aid, like Marianne, will be in high demand as people pick up the pieces and try to forge a new normal. 

“There’s a big requirement now and there will be a big requirement after.”  

Marianne told me about how she has coped with the remote revolution. 

“There’s huge benefits to working virtually. 

“What’s great is that everyone can pick up their tea or coffee and join the training in a more positive state of mind due to not having to travel for many miles and getting up early. There is still a lot of interaction and people are still happy to talk openly. 

“When you’re talking about difficult issues face-to-face, you can see the glint in someone’s eye and you can check in with them, but you don’t get that virtually. I’ve set some firm ground rules about keeping ourselves safe.” 

Marianne’s training has been adapted and new mechanisms have been put in place to help her deliver it effectively. 

The mental health challenge will need to be met by a combination of reactive policy-making and compassion. Now more than ever before, mental health first aid will be needed at the forefront of the recovery.  

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