Mental Health Awareness Week is a time for us all to think about mental health, tackle stigma, and explore how we can create a society that prevents mental health problems from developing but also to protect our and others mental well-being. At Kindred we initiated a mental health training program, MHFA. The training teaches the participants to recognise and support a colleague who may be experiencing mental health problems. A mental health first aider can help by listening, reassuring, or recommending an employee to seek professional help. Over the years, Kindred has provided this training to 70 employees worldwide.
Mental Health is as important as physical health
Lucian Prisecaru, General Manager Romania is based in Gibraltar and has been with Kindred just over 10 years. It was when Lucian read about the training on the intranet he decided to participate in first aider course in November 2020, since then he has completed a refresher session in 2022. “I had developed an interest in Mental Health, and it seemed it was not talked about enough. I wanted to join the course to learn more, develop myself, and possibly help my colleagues”, Lucian explains. During his initial course Lucian found it surprising and worrying to discover how impactful mental health can be but also reassuring that there is plenty of research on the subject including tools and guidance on how best to tackle mental health. He remembers a quote that stuck with me “Mental Health is as important as physical health”.’
This years theme during the Mental Health Week is Anxiety, which is a normal emotion for most but sometimes it can get out of control and become a mental health problem. There are different triggers that can lead to feelings of anxiety, including exam pressures, relationships, starting a new job (or losing one) or other big life events. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems we can face. A quarter of adults said they felt so anxious that it stopped them from doing the things they want to do some or all of the time. Six in ten adults feel this way, at least some of the time. On a positive note, anxiety can be made easier to manage.
Whoever saves one life saves the world entire
Vicente Carrasco works as a Tech Quality Management Specialist within the Tech Business Delivery in Stockholm. Vicente has been with Kindred since 2021 and took the MHFA training last year, and he says it left a very strong impression. “I signed up because in my previous job I was on sick leave due to burn-out and struggled (more or less) silently at the workplace. Also, I saw too many anxiety episodes and a couple of panic attacks both at the workplace and outside and felt very powerless trying to help without really knowing what I was doing. I decided to do something with that impulse.’
Participating in these trainings are very educational and Vincente explained it with a comparison to a photo album. He could relate to the events and situations that were discussed and pinpoint clear memories from his own life. There were many aha-moments. And when he realized how widespread the mental health issues are and how easily misunderstood, he was a bit shocked. “Mental health is just health. I am not looking forward to being in a situation where saving a life depends on me. But equally I don’t want to be in a situation where I want to help but have no idea of what to do. The path to hell is paved with good intentions, they say. They also say that; ‘whoever saves one life saves the world entire”.
The importance of active listening
Marc Van Haezendonck, works as a Customer Service Team Manager in our Malta office. Next year will be Marc’s 15th Kindred anniversary. In contrast to Lucian and Vincente, Marc have had interest in mental health from a young age and studied social work and criminology. He also worked in a psychiatric hospital for five years. After seeing the course being advertised on the intranet in 2019, he immediately applied to become a mental health first aider for Kindred. Last year he followed the mandatory refresher training. When thinking of how Marc can implement what he has learned from the training he says he has become even more alert of the first signs of a colleague who is not feeling well emotionally or mentally. “I realized that a change in performance is often a sign of not feeling well. Based on experience I have also noticed how important the collaboration with other stakeholders such as Human Resources is, as well as good knowledge of our Employee Assistance Programme. The support of colleagues and other team managers is also important when handling a case as a mental first aider. It’s equally as important to be able to express your own feelings after handling colleague’s issue.’ Marc wants to emphasise the meaning of Kindred’s People Team for providing the courses.
The importance of nurturing a caring company
Looking back on how the training has benefitted Lucian, Vicente and Marc, they all agree that they now have more knowledge about the subject, better listeners. Vicente even says that ooccasionally a few of his colleagues get a bit confused when he asks them “yeah, but how are you?” and he really means it. “For the record: I really do mean it!”. He continues “It is easy to forget these things when we are busy with deadlines, meetings, expectations, and personal lives. The only sign can be a glitch in the communication with a colleague and it can mean that things are not ok. And sometimes all it takes to make things a bit better, is to take the time to ask if everything is okay”. Lucian adds that he thinks it is important for the employer to acknowledge the importance of mental health and raise awareness amongst their people. Especially through the last two to three years where we all sensed a collective pressure on our mental health (burnout, anxiety, depression) due to the Covid-19 period. “It is clear to me that it is adamant to have Mental Health at the fore front of employee engagement.”
No need to struggle in silence
Marc acknowledges the importance of active listening. Giving the colleague the feeling that you are there for him/her and trying to motivate the person to seek for help, mostly via EAP, are important in his approach. “I have handled cases from the employee not feeling well emotionally due to something that happened in his/her private life to quite serious mental health issues. In all the cases it felt good that the person was comfortable to open to me.”
“At Kindred we wouldn’t be the company we are if no one cared.” Vicente urges his colleagues to speak up if they are struggling, to go and talk to one of the volunteers. “The more you think you shouldn’t, the more necessary it is. The mental health first aider is here to walk with you. There is no need to struggle in silence.’