How the right conversation about mental health and wellbeing can make all the difference.
Strategically speaking, health, safetyand wellbeing should be integrated into every fibre of your organisation. It should be an intrinsic part of an organisation’s safety culture programme. We believe in practising what we preach so here’s Christine Middleton, Tribe’s Content Creator, talking about becoming a Mental Health First Aider to support our people at Tribe…
Three years ago, my stress container overflowed. It was a really difficult time for my family; my father, who I was very close to, was terminally ill and nearing the end of his life. We were undergoing a particularly difficult house move where everything that could possibly go wrong had gone wrong. Then one silly error at work, something that normally wouldn’t have mattered, was my tipping point and I crumbled. I was lucky to have a caring colleague who saw my distress and stepped in at that point to sort it out for me. It was probably a small thing for her, but I will always be grateful for her support.
Last month I was proud to qualify as a Mental Health First Aider for Tribe. Something that, until relatively recently, I didn’t even know existed. We work in a dynamic, fast paced environment and I wanted to make sure that, while we spend time talking about other people’s wellbeing, we also look after our own. Being open to talking about mental health is the first (huge) step.
Something that really resonated with me on the course was this concept that everyone has a ‘stress container’. This is a really useful concept to keep in mind and use as a ‘self-check’ mechanism or reference point. The analogy is that if you’re feeling resilient your container may have room for plenty of pressure before you start to struggle and become overwhelmed and stressed, but if you are feeling vulnerable your container may be small and fill up quickly. To an outsider who didn’t know what else was in my container at that time, it would have probably seemed that I was completely overreacting, so it’s important to understand that people are not just being ‘over sensitive’ when they are agitated, angry, upset or stressed, they might just have a very full container.
Coping mechanisms, such as exercise, resting, talking or simply writing things down, can help you ‘open the tap’ to release some of the pressures, rather than let the container overflow. At the top of this container is your ‘buffer zone’. We need to learn to be able to recognise when we are in our buffer zone, so we can either undo the tap with our personal coping mechanisms or seek help to do so. At one of the hardest points in my life, I was well in my buffer zone but didn’t do anything about it. From early on in life, we are taught to ‘put on a brave face’.
The buffer zone is where mental health first aiders can play an important part in stepping in and offering support. The course aims to help mental health first aiders spot the signs and triggers of mental health issues and have the confidence to step in, reassure and support a person in distress.
Mental health in the spotlight
Mental health and wellbeing is becoming an increasingly important part of the work we are doing with our clients, and rightly so. Certainly, since the pandemic, mental health has been thrust into the spotlight, with companies taking a long, hard look at what they can do to help their people cope with what life has thrown at us over the last 18 months.
It’s great to see more and more examples of influential people speaking out about mental health: Prince Harry, Stephen Fry, Adele, Lady Gaga, JK Rowling and Beyonce among many others have spoken out about their mental health struggles – and this all helps to reduce the stigma. The recent decision by the US gymnast Simone Biles to pull out of her Olympic team event due to the need to ‘focus on my mental health’, was exceptionally brave and a great example for young people.
It’s a positive start but there is much more to do, as looking after mental health is currently very much about responding to problems, rather than something that should be a natural part of our everyday lives. Everyone needs to be aware of thier mental health, and just like our physical health, we need to look after it, every day. We need to learn to recognise those little signs in ourselves, and in others, that start to hint that mental health is under pressure, and we need to learn what to do about it. Mental health first aid is not about ‘fixing’ the problem, you don’t need to be a mental health expert. It’s about helping to provide options, encouraging people to open up and helping them find the right place to get help, professional if necessary.
My hope is that more and more people will continue to take courses in understanding mental health as, statistically, it’s something that will affect us all, at some point in our lives. As well as first aid training, MHFA England also offers online and face to face courses for managers, HR professionals, MH champions and anyone who simply wants to improve their understanding of mental health. The organisation, started in Australia in 2000, has trained over three million people in MHFA skills. Their mission: ‘To create an unshakable belief that we can all talk freely about mental health and seek support when we need it.’ These figures show an important move towards this. You’ll find more details on the MHFA England website.
I’m just at the beginning of my journey in understanding mental health – there is a lot more I need to know (a huge manual to read through for a start). I’m hoping that if any of my friends or colleagues do need help or support then I may be that person who makes a difference.
Mental Health is defined as ‘a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.’