25 March 2020
A Mental Health First Aider is somebody you can reach out to for support on a wide range of mental health topics. They’re there to listen, offer help and information, and when necessary, will encourage people to seek professional help and support from others.
We have over 100 Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs) across our offices in the UK. All our Mental Health First Aiders are equipped with a wealth of professional contacts and expert support services, who you can reach out to for a wide range of mental health topics. In the same way that we learn physical first aid, our MHFAs are trained to recognize those crucial warning signs when it comes to mental health. They offer a confidential first point of contact for anyone wanting to discuss their mental health or looking to support someone around them.
In the wake of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, more and more of us are starting to work from home. For some, this will feel like any other day in the office but for others, it may be a struggle to stay focused and productive and not feel alone. To help you understand how our network of Mental Health First Aiders can support you during this time, we had a chat with Louise Hetherington about the specific support they can provide.
What exactly is your role as a Mental Health Aider?
A Mental Health First Aider is much like a physical first aider, but for the mind. We’re not trained professionals (just like physical first aiders aren’t doctors!) but we can implement the first steps in helping someone have a positive mental health journey. We can touch upon anything from stress, depression and anxiety through to panic attacks, bereavement and suicide. We’re here to signpost you to available professional resources and just be a reassuring ear for anyone who is under mental strain. Everything we do is confidential and non-judgmental. All your concerns and worries are valid, so please never think you’re not worth our time.
Now that most of us are working from home for the foreseeable future, how do you think this could affect our mental health?
Coronavirus will inevitably lead to some increase in mental ill health. Social isolation can lead to an increase in loneliness and being asked to stay inside reduces people’s ability to exercise and get vitamin D, which affects mood. As well as this, the ongoing stream of news and social media is ultimately causing an increase in anxiety and panic, as evidenced by the stockpilers we see in supermarkets.
Not being able to socially interact also prevents us from airing our concerns to friends as easily, and all being in the same boat means we sometimes feel unable to share particular concerns as we don’t want to worry others. Add in the stress of job security/financial security, cancellation of premade plans and uncertainty about the time period of the virus, we could find ourselves in a pretty poor place as far as mental health is concerned.
What kind of support can our Mental Health Aiders provide to colleagues who are worried about their mental health during this time?
Our Mental Health First Aiders are ready to talk to you. Through the great work our IT team does to keep our internal communication sites going, we’re able to discuss your concerns with you and have social chats to just help ease the stress and be a distraction. We’ll also be able to signpost you to professional help and other websites that may provide guidance and resources such as apps for mindfulness.
We’ll work with you to help boost morale and make you feel supported. We may not be physically close to each other, but we can still build strong relationships through the use of technology.
What do you think people should focus on the most when it comes to looking after their mental health in our current context?
Carefully consider your normal routine in comparison to the new routine. Did you used to exercise for an hour a day? Are you still? Even if you didn’t before, fitting in a home workout or a walk around the block – adhering to the rules around social distancing, of course – can really help boost your mood. Additionally, where possible, getting outside for a walk or to spend time in the garden will help boost vitamin D.
Another big one associated with working from home could be remembering to switch off. Try not to use your commute time to do more work – try to find the balance, completing your normal working hours and taking the additional time as free time for yourself.
What would be your top advice be to those who might be struggling at this time?
At the start of the pandemic, I noticed my own mental health starting to decline, so a big thing to say is to know you’re not alone. I’ve started doing the following few things to ensure my mental health stays in good shape. Give them a try and if you find they don’t work for you, consider giving one of our Mental Health First Aiders a call to find out other ideas and talk through your own personal concerns.
- Define your working hours and stick to them
- Work in a space which is separate to your relaxation space if possible
- Set up your space as if you’re at work – not on the sofa or in bed
- Ration social media and the news, and stick to reliable sources
- Get in some exercise – walk around the block, do a home workout, run around the garden, find what works for you
- Make a list of all the things you’ve put off doing around the house – not only will they fill your time now, when measures are relaxed in future, you won’t have to fit these tasks in around more fun things!
If you would like to hear more from Louise, you can listen to her podcast here or by searching for 'Constructing Mindsets' on Spotify, Apple and Castbox. The recent episodes discuss anxiety, stress, breakdown, overworking and grief.