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February 19, 2024

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culture and behaviours

Who helps the helpers?

Tony Roscoe, Director at Implexis Consulting focuses on mental health first aiders and says checks should be made as to whether support systems are in place for them. 

How some organisations are setting up Mental Health First Aiders to fail

I was sat in a client’s reception chatting to the receptionist. She had a number of really great books about mental health and she herself was a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA).

She started off by telling me all about the books, I told her that I am a Behavioural Psychologist and from there we were off chatting.

She had, along with a group of other staff, been trained as a MHFA, a prospect that she relished as she is an advocate for mental health awareness. On becoming a MHFA, she quickly started talking to people and became the “go-to” person for her part of the site for people who were struggling.

This was all fantastic news, until I asked a question “who is there to support you?”.

As a therapist I know all too well that if you are providing therapy, then you too need therapy. Taking on peoples’ problems, day after day, can leave you drained and even mentally worn-out, so you need the release of therapy to unburden yourself of everything you have taken on from your clients.

This therefore stands at the heart of issue; how do we support those who in turn provide support?

Being clear what confidentiality means

I have spoken to a number of MHFA who understand that what is told to them is confidential and this is obviously a key part of their training and the agreement between the MHFA and the member of staff. Yet, what is not clear is that they can talk to therapists about their discussions (anonymising the details of the individuals involved) and talking about the impact that it had on them as a person and as a MHFA.

We have MHFAs holding very serious and in-depth discussions with staff and that has an impact. Confidentiality does not in any way mean that they cannot talk about that impact with anyone, in fact we know that for their own mental health, they need to talk about it.

Having a support structure

When we train MHFAs we put in place ways for the team within an organisation to talk to each other. We have used both WhatsApp and Slack to do this, the means used is less important than the fact that they know that they are not alone and that they have a support structure behind them.

There are obliviously clear rules around this communication (again any communication is anonymised), and the focus is on supporting one another, especially on bad days when a MHFA has had to have a difficult discussion with a person that they are supporting.

Therapists need therapy

Tony Roscoe, Director at Implexis

We recommend all MHFAs that we train set aside a monthly date and time in their diary to use the Employee Assistance Programme and talk to a therapist/counsellor.

This is a simple, in most organisations, readily available solution to a serious problem.

This monthly session is time for the MHFA to unburden themselves of anything that they are carrying from their conversations as a MHFA and also to take time to talk through any other issues that may be affecting their mental health.

Setting aside this time does two things; firstly, it ensures that they take this time to get the support that they need and secondly, it is leading by example, when it comes to them encouraging staff to use the EAP programme.

One call, once a month (more often if they need it).

In summary, I will go back to my question of the MHFA, “who is there to support you?”. Her answer was “no one”.

When we set people up to support others with no support for themselves, we set them up to fail.

More articles from Tony:

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