This year, we have expanded our Mental Health First Aid Aware Group and trained 50 new Mental Health First Aid Aware volunteers. As part of Mental Health Awareness Week we spoke to a selection of our old and new MHFA Aware volunteers about why they signed up, why it's important to have discussions around mental health and to give an insight into how they look after their own mental health.
In this interview, Emily Tearle, Senior Knowledge Manager, Angie Pedone, Assistant PA Team Manager, Alexa Day, Partner, and Stephen Norman, Print Services Supervisor, share their thoughts.
Why did you sign up to be a Mental Health First Aid Aware volunteer (MHFA)?
Emily: In my experience, it can be hard to raise issues relating to mental health with immediate colleagues and line managers; HR can feel too formal. Sometimes, you just need to off load to someone different – someone who appreciates your working environment but is separate from your day-to-day interactions; someone with whom you can feel comfortable to be open, without fear of consequences. I signed up to be that person.
Angie: I feel it is imperative that we have people on the ground that are able to help and offer support to those in need and can being able to identify if there is a problem with a colleague.
Stephen: Mental health support and awareness is something that is very important to me, due to members of my family and friends suffering with various degrees of mental illness. I already offer advice and support to friends, family and colleagues that I feel sometimes touches on mental wellbeing, so being trained as a MHFA enables me to provide more support to them and others that wish to reach out.
Alexa: Conversations around mental health are, particularly during lockdown and absolutely rightly, becoming more prominent in our everyday interactions with our colleagues. People have such a spectrum of experience and I was very keen to take part in the training for Mental Health First Aiders so that I could be as well-equipped as possible, to listen and give my support effectively, in the context of those conversations.
Why do you think it's important to have open discussions around mental health?
Angie: In the past there has been a lot of stigma around people feeling unable to talk about having mental health illness openly and so it is important for all of us to be educated and understand that mental health is like any other illness, and just because it cannot be seen doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Having open discussions around mental health breaks down barriers and helps those suffering feel comfortable to talk openly without judgment.
Alexa: I have experienced first-hand the effect that the openness of others has had on my ability to speak up in personal moments of struggle, whether relatively minor or more significant. I will always be grateful to those who were brave enough to start the conversation when mental health was not widely spoken about. I recognise that it can still feel hugely daunting to open up about one's own mental health but I hope we will continue to move away from a need to be brave and closer to a point where conversations about mental health are a normal part of everyday conversation.
What do you do to take time for yourself and invest in your own wellbeing?
Emily: In a busy household, finding time for myself is hard, but I love my garden and like nothing better than working to create a beautiful space – it is tiring, but in a good way. To relax, I like to sew.
Angela: I always make sure to do regular walks before and after work and eat healthily and if I manage 7-8 hours' sleep a night then that's the icing on the cake!
Alexa: A few things when I can. First, I have found tennis to be really important to my mental wellbeing and I always think of the court as a bit of an oasis. Second, speaking to really good friends who I feel sure won't judge me. It never fails to help unlock me when I need it. Finally, having a manicure! Not being allowed to pick up my phone for 45 minutes for fear of smudging and instead having to watch whatever terrible TV is on the screen in front of me is perfect!
Stephen: Exercise is my main way of taking time for myself as it really does benefit my mental health and wellbeing. Doing exercise in the morning, whether it is running, walking or a bike ride, along with home exercise videos I follow on YouTube, puts me in a very positive frame of mind for the rest of the day