How to make mental health first aid the first line of defense

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Many employees still feel emotionally fragile due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Incorporating supportive conversations with skilled colleagues as part of a company’s wellness strategy can make all the difference.

Changes are brewing as we enter a new phase in the ongoing pandemic – a phase where vaccinations are rolled out, lateral flow testing is the norm, and businesses begin to carefully re-embark people in common workspaces. For some employees, this heralds the start of an exciting new era, full of optimism and hope that some sort of normalcy will return. For others, the changes are more difficult to manage, sparking additional anxieties when they already struggle and putting pressure on those who continue to care for their loved ones due to the pandemic.

We knew, even before COVID-19, that the state of mental health in the UK was fragile – up to 1 in 4 people in England suffer from some kind of mental health problem each year1. The coronavirus added another layer to that, with a shocking 74% of people feeling so stressed that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.2.

So how can businesses tackle this new set of challenges in a way that supports people individually, as and when they need it?

The answer may lie in mental health first aid (PSSM).

An essential driver of change
Managing mental well-being at work is a complex process and it is essential to help people feel fulfilled and productive. But it can be negatively affected by a variety of external factors, including physical health, excessive fatigue, change management, grief or trauma, personal financial situations, and even a family history of mental health issues.

We know that mental health support often falls to the line managers of organizations. And we also know that this system is not perfect. Line managers are under tremendous pressure in today’s climate, and they could face many of the same concerns as the people they lead. In addition, many do not have the training to deal with these kinds of issues.

A mental health first aid program can change that, by creating a group of trained staff who understand and can identify various mental health issues. A mental health first aid course will teach employees to spot the first signs of mental illness in their co-workers, to listen without judgment and to respond appropriately. This way, rescuers can immediately help someone who is feeling a bit depressed, as well as refer those who need it to professional sources of help such as a general practitioner, an employee assistance program or health services. advice.

Integration support
At Simplyhealth, we have a group of over 30 mental health rescuers, who represent a range of different seniority levels and come from across the company. They are our first line of defense when it comes to initial peer support and are well accustomed to signaling alternate professional care paths when the situation calls for it.

We make it as easy as possible for our colleagues to identify who is in this group using simple strategies, such as posting MHFA names and photos on our intranet, sharing their contact details on screen savers. and the inclusion of the MHFA badge in electronic signatures. . In addition, we operate a central e-mail address which is regularly monitored which allows us to directly connect colleagues with one of our MHFAs. Mental health rescuers also run an online ‘coffee and chat’ session every Wednesday morning, where everyone is invited to share their stories, ask for advice (for themselves or for someone they know. ) or simply to discuss in general.

Our experience shows that this is an effective and useful addition to our overall internal wellness strategy. Our colleagues report that having a friendly, familiar face to turn to in the workplace can help provide a heartwarming first step in asking for help. And we are not alone. Over the past three years, there has been a steady increase in the number of employers providing MHFA training to their employees – from 19% in 2018, to 47% in 2020, and now to 56% in 2021.3.

The bigger picture
As a healthcare solutions provider, you can expect employee well-being to have been a top concern for us for some time – and you’d be right. However, the implementation of comprehensive employee wellness programs is becoming more and more common in various sectors and industries. In fact, in many ways, the increased focus on holistic well-being by companies for their employees has been a silver lining to the pandemic.

As proof, the recent CIPD / Simplyhealth Health & Well-being at Work 2021 report found that 75% of respondents believe senior leaders have employee well-being on their agenda, a 23% increase from to last year. Additionally, more than half of organizations have increased support or benefits for employee well-being in response to the pandemic, which is encouraging news.

But budgets are tight. In a time when some employees are already on the verge of burnout and burnout, and even the most resilient people have found their stoicism and courage strained, solutions must work hard and respond to a wide range. range of needs. We’ve found that mental health first aid does the trick, keeping people connected when working remotely and, most importantly, normalizing the conversation about mental wellness at work.

The references:
1 Foundation for Mental Health. Stress: are we getting out of it? Research report. London, UK; 2018 https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/stress-are-we-coping [Accessed: 22 April 2021].

2 McManus, S., Meltzer, H., Brugha, TS, Bebbington, PE and Jenkins, R. (2009). Adult Psychiatric Morbidity in England, 2007: Results of a Household Survey.

3 CIPD / Simplyhealth Health and Well-Being at Work 2021 report

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