Mental Health HERO
11th May 2020
3 Min Read

A perspective from our mental health first aiders

Lindsay Kohler
Lindsay Kohler
scarlettabbott news

The timing of #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth couldn’t seem more appropriate as we all grapple with the challenges COVID-19 has presented in our work and personal lives.

The stresses are unique and, much as we all hate the word, unprecedented. We’ve been reflecting on mental health from many angles since lockdown began. But we wanted to hear from two members of our team who, last year, made a commitment to support and champion wellbeing in our business.

Mike Hogan, head of people and Jacqui March, finance director both trained with St John’s Ambulance to become mental health first aid champions. I asked them what the training, the past 12 months, and the last few weeks have taught them about workplace wellbeing.

Jacqui March, finance director

Why did you decide to become a mental health first aider?

Before Mike joined us, I was in more of an HR role myself, supporting the team with issues and concerns alongside looking after finance. After Mike settled in, we both decided it would be a good idea to look at more formal training. We wanted greater confidence and understanding of how best to support the team’s mental health, as well as the best resources to share with people, depending on what they need.

Having completed our training, we can both offer support, be a friendly, but also proactive ear and also provide a male or female perspective, as needed.

Did anything about the training surprise you?

I found the stats pretty alarming, particularly around how prevalent mental health issues are for men. Even a year ago when we did the training, it was still perhaps viewed as a taboo. Since then, and certainly in the current situation, mental health is being talked about more openly and with more compassion and understanding.

In most companies, wellness tends to be handled by HR. What different perspective do you think finance brings?

I think a cynical but common view of business is that it’s ‘profits over people’ – that driving revenue is our sole purpose. While I’m close to the financials of our business every moment of my working day, I never lose sight of our people. I think my role actually gives me unique insight into how my colleagues are coping and where they might need more support.

Particularly right now, as we’re working remotely, and having to be agile and efficient to keep costs down, I’m constantly checking project progress, making sure we’re not at risk of putting too much pressure on the team. Of course, money is important, without it we can’t function. But it can’t be to the detriment of our people

Mike Hogan, head of people

Why did you decide to become a mental health first aider?

In my role as a trainer and coach, I’ve always been involved in helping people grow, thrive and perform. I’ve developed a lot of tools and strategies over the years, but I wanted more specific mental health training to deepen my coaching skills.

Our own individual performance always has wellbeing at the core. We can have all the experience and technical skills needed to succeed, but if our wellbeing isn’t prioritised, we’ll struggle.

What about the training has stayed with you since?

I always go back to the idea of ‘mental overload’. Picture the finite capacity we have to take things on visually – be it a jug, a bag or a funnel – we can understand that when it’s full, it’s full.

It’s a useful metaphor for when people start to feel overwhelmed. We can see that we need to release something from that container before it spills over.

Do you find you draw on your training at work?

Absolutely, all the time. Not only when I’m coaching others, where I go back to particular lines of questioning or mental models, but also for myself.

What have you learned that you think businesses and HR teams should be aware of?

That understanding and supporting mental health and wellbeing is absolutely critical to their success.

A business is only as good as its people, but beyond that, people are only as good as the support they receive and environment they are in.

Everyone is different and circumstances vary but it’s our duty to facilitate the best space we can for our colleagues to thrive.

What will you take from your training into the weeks and months ahead?

I think we all need to be fostering workplace cultures where people, at an individual level, are aware of the importance of their own wellbeing and feel comfortable talking to others.

Right now, it’s more difficult for leaders and HR teams to be across everything. We’re missing the visual cues and body language that tell us so much about how a person is feeling. I can’t walk about and spontaneously check in with our team. The current comms environment is centred around appointments – something once informal has become formalised. To overcome that dynamic, we need to be creating and facilitating safe spaces and empowering employees to come forward and speak up without fear, in the knowledge that they will be heard and supported.

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