In all of the chats, tweets, emails and zooms this week, one converstation has really stood out and leaves me thinking about the role of a Mental Health First Aider in the current climate. A lovely lady reached out to me on Twitter explaining that she is a mental health first aider and has been asked to conduct video check-ins with employees. She was worried about what to say to people and wanted to get it right. I felt that she was well suited to the role. Kind, empathic and ready to listen. She had taken some basic training and was interested in mental health issues. What more do you need?

Well under normal circumstances, nothing more. But in the current climate, which is far from normal, mental health first aiders might need some additional support. Picture the scene. An employee suffers from anxiety which for the most part is well managed. Stable routine, support from family and regular exercise all help to keep this person in an OK place. Picture the same staff member facing financial uncertainty, wondering whether to wash down jars of peanut butter from the supermarket and trying to figure out at what point during a busy work schedule they will be able to squeeze in a bit of homeschooling. It’s easy to see how quickly some people might spiral into mental health difficulty during this crisis.

I decided that the best way to help my nervous first-aider was to sketch out what she is comfortable, happy and trained to do. We then looked at what she might need additional support with.

5 Ways Mental Health First Aiders CAN Help

  1. Basic listening skills. Empathy. Paraphrase and reflect what is being said to you. Listen more than you speak.
  2. Ask open questions. ‘How are you doing?’ ‘Is there anything you need support with?’ ‘How have you been looking after yourself in all this?’
  3. Be the conduit of mental health information. Know about the resources on mental health websites such as ‘Mind’ and be prepared to share them. There’s a lot out there.
  4. Offer strategies you know about and are comfortable with. For example if you know a breathing technique from a yoga class – share it! You don’t have to be an expert to share ideas that have worked for you.
  5. Provide a community. Some people are isolating alone and even if they are not, they may feel alone. Offer to check back in. Set up a virtual coffee morning or lunch break. Keep the water cooler moments alive. Put people in touch.

5 Ways Mental Health First Aiders NEED Help

  1. Ensure your mental health first aiders know how and what to refer. They don’t need to counsel someone with suicidal thoughts, they need to know how to refer this.
  2. Teach mental health first aiders how to avoid projection and escalating anxiety. For example, avoiding catastrophic language can help.
  3. Make the role expectations clear. ‘You are not expectetd to fix people’. ‘If you have a bad day you do not have to make calls’. ‘Anything you can do to support people is great’.
  4. Put in a weekly debrief meeting for first aiders with a mental health professional. This is a space to process feelings and talk about anything difficult that has come up.
  5. Teach your mental health first aiders the difference between helping and rescuing. In Transactional Analysis we call this theory ‘The Drama Triangle’. This is essential in order to maintain healthy boundaries. When you understand the ‘Drama Triangle’ you are then able to take care of yourself and the person you are trying to help.

At The Wellness Project we provide affordable training and support for mental health first aiders. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch. We are here to support you, your team and our community.