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March 31, 2020

how mental health first aid training can help your team to flourish

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are your team up to the challenge of providing mental health support?

By Ella Bowman, Paws in Work Mental Health blogger

At the beginning of the year, columnist Eva Wiseman shared some of last year’s trends we want to see the back of in an article in the Guardian. One of these was ‘talking about mental health.’ She explained that ‘over the past five years, mental health awareness has been promoted and commodified to the point where it appears to have looped back around and eaten its own tail.’

How apt that Paws in Work both provide a platform from which to discuss mental health, but that it’s no stranger to bona fide tail-chasing. Ha-ha, pinch us. But she’s right.

‘Mental health’ is often flimsily conflated with feeling a bit stressed or having moments of low self-esteem. Yes, stress. Yes low-self-esteem. But, ladies, gentlemen and esteemed non-binary readers, we beg your patience as we briefly dip our toes into the desperation of poor mental health (promising an optimistic ending) beyond life being ‘a bit tricky’. When you’re not able to control your mood with a yoga class, and you need expert help in securing the best prognosis for something doctors are still themselves learning about.

Let’s revisit the gritty truth of what being really ‘not okay’ means, or else eternally drive around the ‘be your best self’ cul-de-sac, getting nowhere.

you might not understand

And, really, it’s for you that we’re writing this. Existentially, it seems pretty terrifying. Your life, without comfortable control over your feelings, perceptions and/or reactions? How can you begin to imagine it? You’re there making your morning’s brew if it’s a day like any other day, wrestling with a fear as palpable as being hunted by assassins without even a whiff of John Wick’s dog-loving charm.

Say, when you’re in the queue at the supermarket, what if you blurted out disconnected thoughts there-and-then, peppered with swear words? Maybe you’re ‘lucky’ and you’re only at risk of being curt or crying. Seemingly inexplicable heaving sobs? No thanks.

(These examples are all survivable as they stand. The shades of mental imbalance do of course darken to suicide. Something for another blog.)

And never mind how it feels in the current climate of anxiety tied to Coronavirus. For more details on that, look out for our blog on self-isolation which will be posted later this week.

But then people have been saying that ‘it’s okay to not be okay.’ There’s no shame in it, of course, but Wiseman paints a truer picture:

‘The point has been swallowed; the focus of the conversation has shifted from its initial aim – to improve the mental health of a country in distress – to the talk itself. Talking which increasingly seems to serve only the privileged talker, rather than the millions of listeners, who, if they gather the courage to call their GPs, will find themselves on a year-long waiting list. Who, if they enter the system will find themselves sent home on a sea of cuts. Who, if they speak out publicly about historical abuse will find themselves jobless, retraumatised, an object of suspicion. What a cruel trick. Talk gets cheaper every year.’

make sure someone really understands

There’s only so much gesticulating on behalf of mental health awareness that can be done before losing your attention entirely, so, in case you’re still terrified of those whose fractured emotions are front-and-centre: thank the gods for Mental Health First Aiders.

This lot see mental distress not as a contagion, nor as a weakness -- sure, an illness, but not a broken leg, guys: c’mon. Most importantly, though, they see it matter-of-factly. There’s no shaming nor drama and this kind of levelled pragmatism is just the ticket when you’re feeling unspooled. Not a jot of pull-yourself-together, or ‘u ok hun?’ We should add here that well-meaning friends can feel hurt when their good intentions don’t help, or get barked down. If you engage with someone suffering the effects of poor mental health as if it’s a state of personality, and therefore in need of cheering up, you’re likely going to find yourself pouring your efforts into a sieve, with few results to show for it.

advantages of Mental Health First Aid

Outside of measured empathy for people’s distresses, as outlined above, Mental Health First Aiders are excellent advocates for good company culture. We’ve heard of those whose breaks from work due to stress have been derided by colleagues. This is where Mental Health First Aiders come in: they can weigh in as advocates for those absent and steer conversations from mistrust to understanding.

Also knowing there are MHFAs on the team shows an organisation is willing. After all, it’s better than none at all… and in a best-case scenario, it’s someone people feel they can talk to and who can help them find their footing to a better outcome. This might be short term, in the face of a panic attack, say, or longer term awareness and checking in through a treatment plan.

not just puppies

Paws in Work are starting to offer Mental Health First Aid training with a puppy spin from April 2020, enabling the impact of their influence on teams’ wellness to extend far beyond their visits. It makes sense for a company that isn’t about gimmicks: they see how the need to socialise puppies and alleviate emotional strain in the workplace can answer each other to a good extent. Where the puppies’ good temperaments are being looked after, then Ashley and the Paws in Work team have a way to go in their plight to make the world a friendlier place for those with poor mental health.

But, hey, if companies pour enough energy into the right things, and in the right way, they might find some golden nuggets in the seive when they’re done.

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For more information on getting Mental Health First Aid training with Paws in Work, please contact us.

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