In the UK, it is widely believed that one in four adults experience mental illness in their lifetime.
Whilst it has long been a value of Warrington Housing Association, as well as a national legal requirement, to protect and promote the physical health of colleagues. The mental health statistics and discussions from local and national bodies including the NHS, prompted us to reflect on whether WHA could do more to further entrench our values of empowering colleagues in our existing safety-first culture by improving our positive mental health practices.
Ultimately, in 2020 we decided to make a change and train colleagues in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA).
At present, WHA have four qualified Mental Health First Aiders: Geraldine Kiddle, Lorri Holding, Jodie Williams and Andrea Rees. With several other colleagues having registered interest, we hope that this will be a long-standing resource.
A MHFA is a colleague who, alongside their primary job role, has opted to take on the training and responsibilities of actively supporting our individual and collective health. A MHFA does this through three key objectives; to take care of their own mental health, to promote a culture where mental health can be prioritised and to be a point of contact for colleagues in emotional distress.
Jodie said of her role as a MHFA that “we are not trained health care workers or counsellors. However, the training by Mental Health First Aid England has equipped us with the knowledge and skills to raise awareness of health-positive practices and listen in a non-judgemental way, to support ourselves and our colleagues. It’s a gift to be supported to support others.”
Our Mental Health First Aiders meet regularly and aim to consistently have a presence to be an accessible health-positive resource. Here are some of the ways in which the Mental Health First Aiders work to achieve this:
- MHFAs support their own health
- Removing stigma around health, illness and asking for help with guest speakers and health promotion publications both in the office and virtually
- Mindfully promoting health-positive lifestyles and behaviours
- Being available for one-to-one conversations
- Starting a supportive conversation with a colleague who may be experiencing a mental
- health issue or emotional distress
- Listening non-judgementally
- Assessing the risk of suicide or self-harm
- Escalate to emergency services in cases of risk to life
- Identifying appropriate professional support or self-help strategies in which a colleague can access, in some cases this may include counselling services through existing employee benefits
- Maintaining confidentiality in line with safety-first practices
Andrea shares that “as Mental Health First Aiders, we are here to help lighten any mental or emotional loads someone may be carrying by actively listening and signposting them to further help if they need or want it. Sometimes providing a listening ear is all that is required.
“It is an incredibly rewarding role, and I get a huge sense of satisfaction being able to support and help someone.
“Overall, since WHA introduced MHFAs, everyone in the organisation is working towards changing conversations and attitude surrounding mental health. It has also provided the opportunity to create supportive and open company culture, where we want to look after every person within our WHA family.”
Warrington Housing Association are grateful and proud to have Mental Health First Aiders as one of several resources to empower our people and to further attain our aim to help make Warrington and our shared communities a better place to live.
For further support or information relating to mental health, Samaritans can be contacted free on 116 123 or by visiting their website at www.samaritans.org.