Mental health first aiders – creating a virtual ‘culture of care’ during the coronavirus crisis

Challenging scenarios as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic are playing out in businesses across the country, in turn creating unprecedented levels of stress, fear and anxiety for many. Virtual or remote mental health first aid support can help, argues Sarah McIntosh.

Financial pressures and staff furloughing, health concerns, feelings of isolation and adjustments to remote working – all of these are impacting staff and leaders alike.

Based on the predicted economic fallout, significant changes to our ways of living and the already inevitable fall-out of bereavement and loss, this is likely to be the most challenging time in our personal and professional lives so far.

Never before has the wellbeing of the nation’s workforce been brought into sharper focus. As a social enterprise, we at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England are committed to improving the mental health of the nation – a nation that has dramatically changed in the past few weeks. While the goalposts may have moved our mission remains the same.

Last week we asked our network of more than 500,000 people with mental health first aid skills how they were coping with the “new normal”. Organisations across the nation will have rapidly moved to remote working and our network will be supporting their colleagues through virtual means.

The responses we received were awe-inspiring. The warmth, positivity in the face of adversity and initiative being displayed by those with mental health first aid skills to continue to check-in remotely with colleagues, friends and family was deeply heartening.

Need for understanding, empathy and compassion

It’s clear that our network is determined to stay connected and maintain a culture of understanding, empathy and compassion within their now virtual workspaces.

To support their efforts, we have updated our Role of the Mental Health First Aider guidance to include advice on how to support their colleagues remotely. We have also shared lots of new resources so that those providing support can signpost confidently during this crisis.

Critically, we are reminding employers that mental health first aiders are only one part of what needs to be a “whole organisation” approach to mental health and wellbeing. Our guidance on Implementing Mental Health First Aiders is a useful guide for any organisation considering our training.

Now, more than ever, it’s important for those with mental health first aid skills, or indeed anyone supporting their colleagues during this time, to remember two crucial things:

  • That your role is to listen and signpost to further support should it be needed, such as HR, an EAP, self-care resources or helplines, such as Samaritans or Shout.
  • That you cannot pour from an empty cup. Prioritise your own wellbeing before supporting others, as this will put you in a better position to provide support.

We must also remain authentic when we connect in our online workspaces. Video conferences and messenger apps will have replaced “organic” connections in office kitchens and corridors, which are often key spaces for sharing concerns, problem-solving, laughter and bright ideas. Setting up regular check-ins for people to do this with each other is just as important as formal company updates.

Blurring of ‘work’ and ‘home’

The lines between our “work” and “home” spaces, for many of us, will also begin to blur. As part of our My Whole Self campaign, we have created a free resource for people to help support their own mental health while they work from home.

We will need to be even more understanding of people’s extraordinary circumstances, such as elderly relatives or children who would otherwise be at school requiring care. The healthiest workplaces are ones where everyone feels free to be their whole self at work, wherever that may be.

It’s clear that this pandemic is making its mark on the nation’s wellbeing – this is a sad, but unavoidable, truth of global crises such as the one we have found ourselves in.

But what is also clear is that there has been a groundswell of spirit among the workforce to pull together, stay connected, and support each other as best we can. I hope among the many takeaways from this difficult period that this is something that we will strive to continue.

Finally, you can find self-care resources, tips and guidance on the MHFA England website. You can also access guidance on communicating with furloughed workers through the City Mental Health Alliance here.

Sarah McIntosh is director of people for Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England

One Response to Mental health first aiders – creating a virtual ‘culture of care’ during the coronavirus crisis

  1. Avatar
    Dogs and Cats Home - Customer 28 Jul 2020 at 12:32 pm #

    This is not clear on how people working from home should react to reach out to a mental health first aider in their organisation at all. Suggestions for managing this for a small/medium and large company not clear. Staff may not want anyone to know they have an issue. Should intranets or a separate portal

Leave a Reply