Mental Health First Aid Training: Are we doing enough?



1 in 4 people suffer from mental health issues every single year, and in our sector this figure is even higher. Research from The Drum has shown that 92% of people in agencies have suffered with poor mental well-being, compared to 62% of the wider population.

At Yoyo, we’ve always had an open and supportive culture with a focus on understanding as opposed to judgement. Our agency approach isn't just about how to deal with a situation when things get bad, we look at how we can proactively promote good mental health across the agency. We have three internal teams that focus on looking after our mind (Refresh), body (SHFT) and soul (huddl). In the last year, these teams have run activities for the whole studio such as mindfulness, yoga, sports days, massages, creating our own Yoyo allotment, marathon walks and pretty much anything that keeps us all looking after ourselves and each other.

But we can always do more, so as part of a quarterly agency focus, we set out to educate ourselves on what else we could do to support our friends and colleagues experiencing issues with their mental health.

We’re lucky enough that our employees are pretty open when it comes to discussing health concerns with us, whether that be physical or mental. However, from past experiences, I know deep down that if a colleague was dealing with an immediate mental health crisis at work, not one person in our office would have the right skills to help support them effectively and appropriately. And sometimes, a kind smile, a supportive hug, and ‘talking it out’ just isn’t enough. So we needed to take more action.

West Kent Mind came to the rescue with a two-day Mental Health First Aid Course. After discussing it with the team, we collectively decided that Calvin and I should be the first to be trained. Calvin manages the largest team in the agency, he’s our Culture Tsar (self-named!) and has a warm and approachable nature. And then as MD, I talk to every single person in the agency regularly and given the importance of the issue, we wanted to show that we were taking this seriously and we were committed to improving the support we offer.

In all honesty, taking part in the two-day course was far more intense and emotionally challenging than either of us anticipated. The course was hugely eye-opening and we both came away with a new appreciation for all the different challenges that so many people experience on a daily basis when suffering from mental health issues (ranging from low level to completely debilitating).

We came away with lots of simple practices and techniques that can help support and positively impact a colleague who needs help.

Below are a few takeouts from the course that really stood out for us:

  • The facts are astonishing. 3 in 10 employees will experience mental health problems during a single year. 80 million workdays are lost each year to stress, depression and anxiety. Mental illness costs society £25 billion pounds per year.
  • People are very good at hiding their issues. Most of the time you won't be aware your colleague is experiencing a mental health issue. But that doesn’t mean it's not having a huge impact on their life. Don’t dismiss your gut feeling.
  • Learn to be vigilant. Don’t wait for them to come to you. You’ll likely be too late. Going on the course gave us the confidence to approach colleagues if we suspected they were struggling and talk to them directly.
  • Don’t be afraid of mentioning the word “suicide”. This won't put ideas in their heads; it won't lead them to begin thinking about it themselves. Statistics show that asking people if they are thinking about suicide can help. It makes them assess and contextualise their own situation and gives them the opportunity to be honest about their own thoughts. Be brave and broach the subject.
  • Dealing with crisis situations. If your colleague needs immediate help, don’t feel like you have to solve the problem. Be reassuring, listen to them, let them know recovery is always possible, and lead them to get help from a professional. The course was great at providing us with the knowledge of what help is available and giving us further information to refer to at the time.

The course was some of the best training that I have done. We’ve already put some of the techniques into practice and seen the direct impact this has had for our employees. For the long term, we're committed to helping change the way we all think and act about mental health in the agency. We are pledging our commitment with Time to Change to be a workplace that adopts best practice interventions and policies to help our staff work in ways that promote positive mental wellbeing. We’re also looking at providing all staff with mental health awareness training and Calvin and I will continue to apply everything we have learnt on the course in order to improve the wellbeing of Yoyo employees.

To any business leaders that are thinking about or wanting to take part in mental health training, just do it. It’s hugely valuable at work, and outside. You’ll come away from it with a new perspective, understanding, and empathy. This is so incredibly important for the employees that are trusting you on a daily basis to keep them safe and happy at work.

As you can probably tell, this is a subject I feel is hugely important, so if you want to talk through any detail of it, get in touch.