MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID IN ACTION
Charlotte and Fran, CIPA
As one of the three Mental Health First Aiders for CIPA, I like to see myself as the go-to person for anyone who is going through some form of mental health issue or difficulty. Taking care of our mental health is more important now than ever before. We all know that the struggles of lockdown have taken their toll on all of us in some shape or form. I think we’d all be lying to ourselves if we couldn’t admit having a ‘wobbly day’ now and again over the past couple of months.
In my opinion, you should never underestimate the power of talking. Sometimes even vocalising an initial struggle to somebody is all part of getting over that first hurdle. I always like to encourage people to have a conversation; initially this could be a conversation about anything and then could naturally progress towards how they are coping and their mental wellbeing.
However, during lockdown, it isn’t always as easy to spot the signs that somebody could be in a state of distress; therefore, communication is fundamental. It’s so important to check-in with everybody and just ask the simple question: “How are you? Are you okay?” A little something I’ve noticed is that sometimes, it’s helpful to ask this question twice. Usually people will just answer the first time with a straightforward: “Yeah, I’m fine.” This then gives the opportunity for you to ask: “But really though, are you okay?” I think that this indicates a genuine concern and interest in their wellbeing and gives them the chance to have a conversation with you about how they might really be feeling and any concerns or worries in their life.
Of course, it’s important to remember that not everybody will be willing to open up and talk about their wellbeing; for some people, it’s entirely personal. Taking this into account, it’s important to remember that you might not always know what’s going in somebody life or the battles they could be facing. So, if all else fails, be kind and be considerate, always!
Going into the lockdown back in March I suspected that being part of the group of CIPA Mental Health First Aiders was going to become a more active role than before. We are a small organisation; we are relatively close knit and BL (Before Lockdown) we all worked together in one open plan office. What perhaps I wasn’t fully set for was the quick fire shakedown of my understanding of my MHFA training and the adjustments of how it was going to be needed and implemented during our adjustment to remote working.
There are so many wonderful resources out there online to help both MHFA and employers on how to safeguard their employees whilst everyone is adjusting to remote working during the difficult backdrop of the pandemic; however I would seriously recommend if you find yourself reaching for them taking some time to consider and maybe discuss with your management teams how it would properly apply to your company specifically. Like most small, close knit organisations we have our own quirks and collective personality which would and has required continued tweaking of how MHFA support has been applied.
Thankfully CIPA instigated from the get-go weekly all staff check ins, on Wednesday mornings, which initially started as work updates and sharing information about company plans but was also an important chance for us all to check in with each other. That has been an anchor for me, personally. On top of those weekly check ins there have been team meetings, chats on Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp Groups, catch up meetings with HR, Managers etc.
Our management team will soon embark on their own Mental Health Awareness training; I feel like we had a very successful Mental Health Awareness week, with staff contributing to a video about acts of kindness and there’s work being done on a small intranet for the CIPA staff, to offer us a private online space for the tools and information we need to keep working on through and beyond the lockdown.
Next week is my 12th year at CIPA, the shape of the staff group and my place within it has changed and fluctuated over the years, but I have never been as proud as I am right now to be part of it. We’re looking out for each other and supporting each other in how we adjust and endure through this incredibly stressful and unpredictable situation.
Two last things before I go.
Zoom (or whatever brand of video chat provider you use) fatigue is real. Don’t push yourself. Take breaks from having the camera on if you need them.
Go easy on yourself. There’s no gold standard for what getting through the lockdown looks like. And if you find yourself struggling or feeling lost, please reach out to your support network and if you find yourself in a situation where you feel like you don’t have one and want someone to talk to you can absolutely contact me – firstname.lastname@example.org