How to create a positive workplace around mental health 


By Lindsey Appleby-Flynn | September 20, 2021

Lindsey Appleby-Flynn, National Sector Lead for Health and Social Care at Connect2Care, explains how the COVID-19 pandemic has increased take-up of the First Aid for Mental Health training courses. 

Over the last 18 months, staff across the care sector have been hailed as heroes and rightly so. Care home staff have made huge sacrifices to care for some of the most vulnerable people in our society during this pandemic, working increased hours, tackling new rules and restrictions, risking their own health and even leaving their families to move in with residents during lockdown.  

However, after 18 months of struggle, in an already challenging industry, many employees have reached breaking point.  

What the research tells us 

In July last year, a survey conducted by the Queen’s Nursing Institute unsurprisingly found that over half (56%) of care home nurses felt worse or much worse in terms of their physical and mental wellbeing than before the pandemic.  

Earlier this year, a survey of care workers revealed that 75% felt their work during the pandemic has had a serious negative impact on their mental health. The same research shows that some of the main causes of work-related poor mental health include fear of taking the virus home (67%), not being able to see family or friends (65%) and fear for their own safety (49%).  

The safe, effective and compassionate care that residents across the country receive is only possible if staff are emotionally and psychologically healthy and right now, care workers are struggling. 

Since March last year, they have been faced with bereavement, stress, trauma and social isolation, all recognised causes of mental health problems. And the resulting issues, including depression and anxiety, won’t just disappear as we start to come out of this pandemic; care home staff are facing ongoing mental health concerns, with some issues, like PTSD, yet to come to the forefront. 

Staff across the care sector need better support. They need to be in a setting which is supportive and inclusive of their mental health.  

Creating a positive workplace culture around mental health 

There remains a stigma attached to mental health which impacts people’s willingness to open up and speak up if they’re struggling. To remove this stigma, employers need to establish their businesses as safe places for any employees who have mental health concerns.   

An important aspect of this is providing the workforce with training in first aid for mental health.   

The role of a Mental Health First Aider in the workplace is a vital, yet multi-faceted one. They act as a primary point of contact within an organisation for colleagues to turn to for mental health support, offering a listening ear and empathy with a non-judgemental approach.   

Mental Health First Aiders are equipped with the practical skills and knowledge to recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues and offer guidance, signpost individuals to professional support services and provide immediate support, hopefully before the person reaches crisis point.  

They are also responsible for promoting a positive workplace culture around mental health. There is still a great deal of ignorance around mental health issues and many people are unsure about how to react when faced with it.  

By becoming informed and aware, Mental Health First Aiders can help to raise awareness of mental illnesses, challenge the stigmatising behaviours and attitudes attached to mental health and encourage people to speak up about their own difficulties.   

The Rise of Training in First Aid for Mental Health 

This type of training isn’t new; it has been around since 2007, when the National Institute of Mental Health in England launched the programme as part of a national approach to improve public mental health. However, in recent years the spotlight has been turned on mental wellbeing, leading to hundreds of thousands of volunteers being trained in mental health awareness, support and first aid.  

The coronavirus pandemic has only further increased the uptake. According to the ‘Sector Pulse Check’ report commissioned by Hft, 87% of social care organisations have provided mental health awareness training, while almost two thirds (62%) have in-house Mental Health First Aiders. 

Mental health education is essential for not only identifying but understanding different mental health conditions. At Connect2Care, we have developed different levels of first aid for mental health training courses to help care providers offer this support and help to give their teams these invaluable skills. 

Supporting your employees 

For those who have not yet completed a first aid for mental health training course, there are still a number of signs to look out for and many ways in which managers can support employees experiencing mental health struggles, such as burnout.  

  • Losing passion – You may notice that someone’s usual attention to detail, proactive approach to work and passion for the task at hand is lagging. This could be a sign that an employee has too much on their plate and is feeling overwhelmed by the volume of work they’re expected to complete.  
  • Increased absence – You may notice that they seem less alert, are lacking their usual energy, or have had a high number of days off sick. While employees may not be honest to say stress is the reason for not coming to work, a spike in recurring short and long-term absence is an indicator of poor mental health.  
  • Drop in performance – You may notice silly mistakes being made or the typical work output of your workforce, or an individual, decreasing over time. Mental health concerns such as burnout can affect someone’s ability to complete everyday tasks, their concentration and sense of creativity – resulting in a drop in their performance and productivity.  

Mental health-inclusive leadership is key to supporting employees and reassuring them that they are not alone. It’s important to encourage line managers to regularly check in on their employees and reduce their workload if they begin to feel overwhelmed.  

However, having dedicated internal mental health support and establishing your workplace as one which is inclusive of mental health is essential. An open-door culture on all things mental health helps to promote open conversations, transparency and support, for all levels within the organisation. It will increase productivity, boost team collaboration, improve morale, and generate a positive reputation as an employer. 

Working in such a fast-paced and demanding industry can mean that work takes priority over mental health. That has certainly been the case over the past 18 months. But if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the vital role that care workers play within our society. They are the biggest asset to our care system  ̶  we can no longer allow them to suffer in silence without the support they need to look after themselves and their residents.  

We need to care for our carers and shine a spotlight on their mental health and wellbeing.  

Connect2Care offers two free places for employees of any non-regulated organisation on its Awareness of First Aid for Mental Health course. To apply for complimentary access, please email: commercial-courses@connect2care.net  

For more information on Connect2Care, or to find out about our First Aid for Mental Health courses, please visit: www.connect2care.net  

 

 

 

About Lindsey Appleby-Flynn

Lindsey Appleby-Flynn is National Sector Lead for Health and Social Care at Connect2Care, where she oversees curriculum design and development of learning resources and materials. Her considerable experience has included various mental health settings, such as forensic mental health, community support and working with individuals experiencing severe and enduring mental health problems.  

Lindsey holds a HND in Mental Health, Level 3 qualification in Supervising Mental Health First Aid, and is a First Aid for Mental Health Instructor. 

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