If someone was bleeding you’d all rush to help, but an invisible wound emanating in the mind is just as lethal and yet the vast majority of us are untrained in knowing when to step in and how to help someone deal with their trauma, as mental turmoil or grief is harder to spot and often far trickier to treat. CRF speaks to Donal Scanlan, Mental Health First Aid Ireland Project Manager, who is pioneering the global movement towards better mental health in the workplace.
I know you’re pushing this forward in a positive way in Ireland, how widespread is this movement?
So far, training in Mental Health First Aid is available in over 23 countries, with over 1 million people trained worldwide.
How does it work?
Mental Health First Aid teaches us how to identify when someone is having difficulty with their mental health or is in crisis. It encourages how to offer support, information and genuine understanding in a non-prescriptive way. We can encourage appropriate professional help and we should also encourage other supports and self help strategies.
So has there been a breakthrough in recent years in awareness within the workplace?
I believe we are certainly talking more about mental health in the workplace, however we lack the skills and confidence to truly support each other. Mental Health First Aid sits right in this space; teaching individuals the skills and confidence to support each other. Like I’ve heard before, ‘It’s just common sense’ or ‘Why didn’t we think of this before now?’ are just a few of the comments I received when attending a recent mental health fair for Mental Health First Aid Ireland.
Mental health is not a nine to five issue though…
The workplace is just one spoke in the wheel of someone’s life. I imagine we can find a balance. A place where peoples’ voices are heard, their families’ concerns and worries addressed and where we all work together to care for each other. How can we expect to treat a person holistically if we don’t include families in an integral manner? We need to realise we are not alone in our problems and that people can and do recover from mental health difficulties. Recovery isn’t a cure, it isn’t a fix all scenario. It is about living a fulfilling, satisfying life where we have hope and opportunity to live up to our potential. Surely this sounds like a job for a whole community?
Where do we as leaders and co-workers fail when it comes to mental health awareness?
Where we falter I believe is when we let fear get in our way. We are scared. Scared to fail, scared that we will say the wrong thing or that we will be responsible for the person. This fear trumps our inbuilt humanity sometimes and this fear leads to silence and stigma.
How can we change this stigma?
Real change in the stigma surrounding mental health comes not only when we change our attitudes but more importantly when we change our behaviour. Mental Health First Aid has been proven to improve this knowledge base, and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. Most importantly, Mental Health First Aid has been shown to improve the likelihood that we will offer support and information to someone having difficulty.
Does culturing our world of workers need to start within the realms of parenting?
Yes, definitely. I have three kids aged 7, 8, and 11. I look forward to the day when my younger kids see their mental health like the 11-year-old does. She has the phrase ‘it’s ok not to feel ok, and it’s absolutely ok to ask for help’ on the tip of her tongue. To her it isn’t just a phrase; I can tell she understands it #prouddaddy.
So for anybody interested in this essential part of training within their workforce, how far does it go?
Mental Health First Aid Ireland, for example, provides courses so people can learn to support someone with an emerging mental health problem or someone experiencing a mental health crisis. It does not teach people to become a counselor or therapist. And it places an emphasis on support, listening, encouragement and self care. It’s been developed by service users, family carers and professionals working together so it’s comprehensive, well tested and approved.
Mental Heath First Aid can help build this confidence, challenge stigma and shine a light on the unknown, and go some way towards showing people that mental health is something we all experience and can all relate to. At the very least, the simple act of reaching out in a supportive way can offer hope to a person where maybe they had lost sight of it.
Never has this issue been more topical with the World Mental Health Day on 10th October 2016, which will be focusing on the theme of Psychological and Mental Health First Aid for All.
HR teams need to start allocating budgets to pioneer a greater spread of this training worldwide to truly take care of their teams.