Supporting staff mental health is dear to my heart

Featured article - 14 May 2021
By Michaela Gray, SCIE HR Business Partner and Mental Health First Aider

Michaela Gray, SCIE HR Business Partner and Mental Health First Aider

Most of us have heard the stats before. According to Mind, roughly one in four of us in England will struggle with a mental health condition during any given year. It’s likely that figure rose significantly over the last 12 months, for obvious reasons.

The chances are therefore high that most of us will experience poor mental health at some point in our lives, and it’s even more likely we will know someone who does. That someone could be a colleague or a report or a friend at work.

As an employer, we have a duty of care to staff, and as human beings, we have a moral duty to look out for and support each other. I will never forget suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts when I was younger – I was working as a receptionist at the time, and I was actually sent on a customer service course by my manager, because I looked so unhappy on the front desk! My mental health issues were obvious for all to see, but I was too afraid of the stigma to ask for help, and nobody knew how to offer it.

That is one of the reasons that supporting staff mental health is dear to my heart, and why in 2019 I made a case for me and some colleagues to undertake Mental Health First Aider training.

The name Mental Health First Aider is I feel a bit of a misnomer. We’re not trained therapists or psychiatrists, but we’re here to provide an informal listening, support, and signposting service. The aim is to provide early intervention and prevent people from reaching a crisis point.

In the last couple of years, I and the other Mental Health First Aiders have worked to remove stigma, raise awareness, provide support, and ensure that staff have the tools to support their own good mental health and that of their colleagues, so far as that is possible, and that they are aware of the support offered to them by SCIE and how to access it (through their line manager, HR, our Employee Assistance Programme, our Occupational Health service, and of course our Mental Health First Aiders).

There is however only so much we as individuals or as an organisation can do. Ultimately, in order for us to provide an effective signposting service, there need to be effective and accessible services we can signpost to. All too often, access to treatment can be slow and thresholds high, and while investment in services is slowly increasing as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, there can be significant variation in those services depending on where you live. It also remains to be seen whether this will be enough to cope with the mental health crisis caused by the pandemic. So, for Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, I’d like to say that simply raising awareness of mental health issues is no longer enough. We recognise the importance of good mental health, and we need to invest in our mental health services accordingly.

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