Simon Blake, Chief Executive of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, highlights how we can adapt to managing mental health remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has led us all to change our daily routines and created uncertainty about the future. As we adjust to new regulations around social distancing, different ways of working, and health and financial concerns, it is no surprise that over 60% of UK adults feel anxious or worried about the pandemic. Clearly, at this most challenging of times, it is more important than ever to focus on our wellbeing.
At Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England our mission is to improve the mental health of the nation and in the current crisis, this is more important than ever. We are adapting a number of our mental health courses for remote delivery, starting with our Half Day Mental Health Aware and MHFA Refresher courses which are now available in an online format. We have also just launched a line manager focused product Mental Health Knowledge for Managers, which can be delivered online using a flexible module approach.
With more people working remotely we need to ensure we maintain and strengthen our human connections to help boost morale and motivation. At MHFA England we released guidance to help employers support their staff who are working from home, as part of our My Whole Self campaign. The guidance provides a number of simple steps you can take to create healthy working habits at home. For example, something as simple as waking up and getting ready at the same time every day, or setting up a workspace that’s separate from your sleeping area, can make a huge difference preparing you for work and make it easier to switch off at the end of the day. These resources are a vital way for people to help protect their mental health and prevent issues from getting worse.
We have also mobilised our network of over 400,000 people with Mental Health First Aid England skills including those working across the public sector and civil service, and we are supporting them with guidance on how to practice their role in this new virtual landscape. Whether your team has a Mental Health First Aider or not, it’s important to create opportunities for regular check-ins. You could do this by arranging a remote team coffee every morning, which allows a dedicated space for informal conversation, or just by giving colleagues a ring once a week to let them know you’re there if needed.
Many of our public servants will be working on the front line during this crisis. If you know a colleague is struggling and you want to start a conversation about how you can best support them, make sure you’re applying the same principles to video calls as you would to conversations in person. Set enough time aside, minimise distractions, and give the person your full focus. You should make it clear that you are there to support the person remotely in any action they want to take and be able to discuss how the person can contact HR, an EAP, professional services or self-help resources, remotely. There’s lots more tips and ideas to help start supportive conversations in MHFA England’s Take 10 Together toolkit.
You could also consider offering some simple self-care tips that people can do from home, such as going for a walk, meditating, breathing exercises, and eating well – all of these things can be done from almost anywhere. Self-care can also just be about making time for the things you enjoy, whether that’s watching your favourite television series, connecting with family or friends, doing something creative, or learning a new skill.
For Mental Health First Aiders and for everyone, mental health starts with you, and looking after yourself is critical in order to then be able to support others effectively. Make sure you are practising what you preach, utilising the support measures that work best for you whether that’s professional services, speaking to colleagues, or practising self-care.
We will all face unique and unsettling challenging in the coming months both in our personal and work lives. At this strange time, strengthening human connections, checking in regularly with colleagues, and creating the time and space for people to offer and seek support will help us not only survive but thrive in the coming months. It will also provide us with some strong foundations for managing mental health remotely, both for now and in the future where home working may be more prevalent than ever before.
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