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Mental Health First Aid Training

Jigsaw puzzle of a head being pieced togetherI recently became a Mental Health First Aider, joining my colleague Sammy who completed the course last year. Mental health is an area that APR are allocating an increasing amount of time and resource to. As an example, within the last month line managers have taken part in a morning of basic mental health training, giving all managers a good base education of mental health to help them have positive conversations with our staff.

The mental health first aid course covered a range of topics and I feel it is something that would be useful for more organisations to send people on.

As an actuary, naturally I was excited by the array of mental health statistics that were given early in the course. Some of the statistics showed my ignorance of the impact of ill mental health. I was oblivious to the fact that suicide rates within the construction industry were so high: they are three times higher than the national average. I was aware that more men die by suicide but in my head, it was a 60/40 split whereas the real numbers are 75% male and 25% female.

From an employer’s perspective, it is interesting that 72 million working days are lost annually due to mental ill health and this comes at a direct cost of nearly £35bn, there are other indirect costs such as presenteeism, lack of productivity etc and therefore the £35bn is conservative. The fact that at any given time, 1 in 6 working-age adults have symptoms of mental ill health, suggests that it is likely that at least some of my colleagues could have symptoms of mental ill health. This compounded with the fact that 70% of those with diagnosable ill mental health receive no treatment at all, gives an insight into the need for more to be done as a collective.

What I seemed to grasp from certain parts of the course was the overriding stigma that exists in society when it comes to mental health and the perspectives we have, and how these perspectives of mental health are quite often wrong. For example, those suffering with mental health illnesses are more likely to be victims of violent crime, whereas there’s a common misconception that they are often the perpetrators.

A key concept that I learnt about was that of the stress container. Everyone has a stress container and different people have different size stress containers, which can be thought of as sensitivity to stress. When stress builds up too much, the container overflows and we develop issues that have a negative impact on life. There are helpful coping mechanisms which can act to tap off or drain away some of the stresses. These include exercise, relaxation time and spending time on hobbies. At APR recently there has been a real push on health and wellbeing, and we have a whole section of our intranet dedicated to this. Here staff can find information on healthy eating, fitness and a variety of self-help applications. Hopefully, this will be a handy resource for my colleagues to use to drain off some of their stresses.

What makes a good actuarial student - balanceI learned that as a first aider in essence my job is to guide those in need to professional resources or to other alternative resources and self-care options. It is important to note that we aren’t trained mental health professionals and that we are here to listen, offer some basic support and guide those to resources that are available to them whether that be GP, counselling services via Employee Assistance Programmes or some other.  We receive a full list of charitable organisations that can help with a range of mental ill health. The services offered by some charities astounded me, for example I was unaware that the Samaritans line does not show up on the phone bill, so this could be particularly handy for someone who wants to seek help whilst ensuring that their talks remain private.

The most important part of the role is to be able to listen and we were taught about the fundamentals of listening non-judgementally, including the way in which you should sit and the kind of probing questions to ask. Some course mates and I were corrected on the terminology used, even things as simple as not mentioning “committed” when discussing suicide, as this makes it sound like a crime, instead replacing it with “died of suicide”.

Though spotting the signs of mental health issues is not always straightforward, the course gave information on how to spot the early signs and types of behaviour to be aware of and how to approach someone you suspect may be struggling with mental ill health.

Since going on the course APR has spent some time making the workplace more open about mental health discussion. We have created a page where some employees have shared in open forum their experiences with mental ill health, in the hope that this will give people the confidence to approach either the mental health first aiders or their managers if in need of help. The website has also been reconfigured to make it easy for employees to see all the benefits that the Employee Assistance Programme has to offer, which include counselling and debt management services to name a few.

In all since going on the course I’m more aware and educated on mental health and APR has been proactive in attempting to help employees by making resources readily available and accessible to all.

Mohassin Shah

May 2021