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The ever-increasing importance of Mental Health First Aiders

24th May 2021 By James Ellaby
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Historically there has always been two key health and safety roles that people have taken on in the workplace, that of the fire marshal and the first aider. You’ll know who they are because the first aider’s photograph will probably be in your office kitchen, while the fire marshal will be the one in the high vis jacket escorting you out of the building when the fire alarm goes off.

Both are potentially life saving roles within an organisation, but a third role is now becoming increasingly common; that of a mental health first aider. The aims of this role are:

  1. Preserve life where a person may be at risk of harm to themselves or others.
  2. Provide help to prevent the mental health issue from becoming more serious.
  3. Promote recovery of good mental health.
  4. Provide comfort to a person with a mental health issue.

Over the last 14 months the importance of having someone within the business who has the training and expertise to tackle these aims has been more crucial than ever, with staff scattered and isolated in their homes, living through a global pandemic, home schooling and untold other pressures without their usual support networks.

At Social we have a number of qualified Mental Health First Aiders, so we asked two of them to tell us about their roles:

Michael Vivona, Head of Engagement (qualified September 2018)

I’ve been a Mental Health First Aider for nearly three years now and it’s a role which has changed dramatically since Covid. Before the pandemic, it was much easier to check in on people and make sure everyone was feeling motivated as the majority of our staff were based in the Manchester office. You could organise fun team building activities, or even simple things like regular socials to make sure everyone was ok.

In recent months, it has been very difficult to get the same level of interaction and I think we have all found it hard to maintain our mental wellbeing. I’ve tried to share ideas to help colleagues cope and I’ve personally found keeping to my regular routine and exercise have really made a massive difference. As a company we have also been doing lots of virtual team building activities.

However, I think everyone is looking forward to ‘Freedom Day’ on 21 June where restrictions will be lifted as a result of the vast majority of the population being vaccinated by that point. So many of our colleagues have joined during the pandemic and it will be great to finally meet everyone face to face.

James Ellaby, Content Writer (qualified December 2020)

I’ve been a Mental Health First Aider for six months now and it’s been a really inspiring role to take on. I have some experience in this area already, having worked as a Crisis Volunteer for Shout 85258 for over a year, but being a Mental Health First Aider is different from that in several key ways.

There’s a proactive side to mental health first aid, as well as reacting to situations and helping people when they come to you. It’s about promoting good mental health practices, which is something I try to do using a Workplace Wellbeing intranet forum that was set up at Social when we all went into lockdown last year.

Of course, working remotely makes it more difficult to do one aspect of this role, which is to keep an eye out for people who may be struggling, something that is much harder to do over Teams than in a shared office, where you can have more interactions with more people and see body language and other key indicators of how they’re feeling.

Part of my regular role here at Social as Content Writer has been working with a client that is very focused on this area. Mental Health Motorbike is an organisation set up by Paul Oxborough after one of his friends died by suicide, and its aim is to recruit more Mental Health First Aiders within the biker community.

Traditionally (though of course not exclusively), that’s a community dominated by men of an age where they haven’t previously been encouraged to open up about their mental health. Men aged 45-49 have the highest suicide rates in England and Wales, 25.5 per 100,000.

So it’s hugely important work that Mental Health Motorbike is doing and I’m proud that Social is working to help them spread their message.