January often feels like a hard month to get through. The magic of Christmas is over, it’s dark outside, and we’re back at work. This means many of us will be doing things to combat the January blues, such as getting back in the gym and making sure we get plenty of time to relax. Especially as we approach Blue Monday, "the most depressing day of the year", on the 20th of the month.
But taking care of our mental health isn’t just for January. We spoke to Anne Miller Donkin at Edu-c8 Mental Health & Wellbeing about how we can support our own and others’ mental health in the workplace year-round.
Edu-c8 Mental Health & Wellbeing are an organisation passionate about raising mental health awareness. Their mission is to empower individuals to look after their own wellbeing and promote mental health in the workplace and the community as a whole. One way of achieving this is by providing Mental Health First Aid courses to managers and staff to help them spot the signs of poor mental health and provide support and guidance on a first aid basis.
Anne, who is Director of Operations & Business Development at Edu-c8, shared with us how Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) works and why it’s important. She also shares some advice for how we can better manage our own mental health at work - and not just for January.
What is Mental Health First Aid and how does it work?
“Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is the mental health equivalent of physical first aid training. The legal requirement is for organisations to treat mental health the same as physical health. So if we have physical first aiders in our workplaces, why don’t we have mental health first aiders?”
"Just like a physical first aider isn’t a doctor or a nurse, Mental Health First Aiders aren’t trained to become a counsellor or a therapist. Our MHFAiders are trained with the skills and confidence to recognise signs and symptoms of common mental health issues and guide an individual to get the help that they need. A physical first aider wouldn’t mend a broken leg, but they would support you and get you the help you need. It’s the same idea. The end concept is the same - you could save someone’s life.”
Can you tell me about the courses and where you run them?
“Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is an internationally recognised training course, developed by MHFA England. Almost half a million people in Britain have been through a Mental Health First Aid programme."
"We run the Mental Health First Aid course, a two-day course to qualify as a Mental Health First aider, that anyone in the business can do. We then have a one-day MHFA Champion course which is ideal for line managers and those with people management responsibilities. Plus, we also have a short half-day course for anyone interested to become mental health aware. Every Mental Health First Aid course is delivered by Mental Health First Aid Instructors who are registered by MHFA England to deliver the accredited courses."
“We run regular open courses in Bedfordshire as well as Hertfordshire and Peterborough. We also go into companies and run the courses on-site. We work with a wide range of sectors. We’ll work with any business who wants to raise mental health awareness and support the employees in their company and encourage organisations to develop a wellbeing strategy that promotes a mentally healthy workplace."
Who attends the Mental Health First Aid courses?
“We have a wide range of people attend our courses from all sectors. Typically it’s people in HR, managers, as well as people who are genuinely interested in understanding and promoting mental health within the company and the community."
"We recommend that employers should try to have as many first aiders for mental health as first aiders for physical health. This is usually people with a keen interest in mental health. One of the great things about having Mental Health First Aiders is that often people don’t want to talk to their boss about it. It gives them someone else they can talk to in confidence.
"Ideally, all managers will take the MHFA Champion course so that they understand how they can support the mental health of the people they manage. 85% of managers appreciate that the health of the people they manage is their responsibility, but only 30% have had any training in mental health. So, they understand it’s their responsibility, but they don’t know what they’re meant to do about it. This is a big problem and the Champion course can help."
So what is the role of a Mental Health First Aider?
“A Mental Health First Aider gives people someone to reach out to at work when they’re feeling stressed or unable to cope. If it’s a work problem, the MHFAider can offer to speak to HR or try to help them resolve the issue in another way. If it’s a personal problem, they can talk to the individual about how the company might be able to support them, including Employee assistance programmes. The MHFAider can also direct people to their GP or helpful resources like Mind. But even just having someone to talk to about how they’re feeling can be really helpful for people.”
“Part of the MHFAider's job is also to spot the signs that someone may be struggling. If someone’s behaviour suddenly changes, for instance their performance dips or they start coming in late all the time, MHFAiders can spot these signs and look to understand the reasons behind them."
"We also believe in supporting our MHFAiders in supporting others. So last year we introduced our new Mental Health First Aid -Support and Resources Members Hub for all MHFA delegates trained by Edu-c8. This gives them access to email support, resources and materials."
If there was one tool you would encourage people to use to help them manage their mental health at work, what would it be?
“A very popular concept is the Stress Container. It’s a useful tool to understand not only your own stress, but the stress that others might be going through. It’s a tool we teach on our Mental Health First Aid courses.”
“We are all prone to stress at work throughout the day, and we handle it in different ways. What people need is a little release so it doesn’t overflow. Maybe that’s a short walk, doing something active on your lunch break, or dedicating your evening to self-care."
"By addressing your own stress container and developing your own coping strategies, you can improve your mental health both at work and outside of work."
To learn more about the Stress Container, Anne recommends watching this video from the MHFA:
The fact that there are companies out there, like Edu-c8, who are offering Mental Health First Aid training to employees, shows just how far the conversation has come since the times when it was considered taboo to talk about mental health at work.
More organisations are encouraging people to talk openly about their experiences with mental health, especially around stress, anxiety and depression, and training your staff on mental health first aid is a great way to get the conversation started in your company.
To learn more about the courses offered by Edu-c8 or to view their upcoming courses in the local area, visit the website here.