MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AIDERS AT THE ROYAL COLLEGE OF PAEDIATRICS AND CHILD HEALTH
Louise Frayne, Director of People
In many respects, mental health remains a taboo subject for a lot of people. Consequently, those experiencing mental health issues often battle on without daring to mention it to anyone, let alone their employers. Yet, we all experience fluctuations of mental health… for most of us we are able to manage well on a day to day basis, but for others it can be a continuous struggle.
In recent years, we have seen a lot more coverage of mental health, particularly among young people. Big public awareness campaigns have sought to bring home the message that we all need to be more open and wipe out the taboo. Despite this, it remains one of the most prominent causes of workplace absenteeism, impacting not only the individual concerned but also their families, colleagues, and the organisation they work for. So why don’t employers give it a greater priority and attach the same level of importance, recognition and understanding as they do physical well-being? This may seem at first a rhetorical question… however the answer can be attributed to a lack of understanding and a fear of talking about it openly.
Here at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, mental well-being is seen as a priority, and we continue working to create and provide the right resources. We have an excellent employee assistance scheme which provides free counselling and signposting. We were initially concerned that our people wouldn’t feel comfortable using the services through us, but we are encouraged by the statistics we receive – not only are our people accessing the programme, but they have the confidence to do so as whenever they need to. Yet, we still felt we could do more.
In 2019, we began developing a Mental Health First Aider Scheme. With full support from the Senior Management Team, staff were encouraged to volunteer for the roles not only to support colleagues but also as a career development opportunity. We now have nine members of staff trained as Mental Health First Aiders, and we officially launched this at the beginning of 2020.
On reflection, the introduction of the Mental Health First Aiders was exceptionally timely. Never could this have been more important and valuable to our people as we experienced a move to remote working with 24 hours’ notice, the prolonged isolation working from home, and the additional challenges facing us all during this pandemic. Across our internal communication channels, we’ve consistently promoted both the employee assistance programme and the Mental Health First Aiders so staff know exactly where to go for support. The confidentiality of both programmes is emphasised, so our people feel safe and secure to access the support.
Even before the current pandemic, the Mental Health First Aiders were active, supporting colleagues across the College and signposting them to relevant sources of support to assist with their overall well-being. We saw absenteeism fall to an all-time low, and staff morale rise. Through the staff engagement survey, we had feedback that our people felt the College and their managers do care about their well-being. This is pivotal for us an organisation, as an engaged workforce is a productive workforce, and ultimately means we provide a great service to our members.
The cost of introducing the scheme was £2750 plus staff abstraction costs. It may seem expensive at first, but it is worth pointing out that if you compare it to one member of staff being off on long-term sick, the cost is negligible in comparison. Add to this the benefits of improved staff engagement, and it is a win-win.