The role of the Mental Health First Aider

At Direct Line Group, mental health is at the heart of our wellbeing strategy. In June 2018, we introduced mental health first aiders (MHFA), who provide a first point of contact for employees experiencing mental health issues, to talk things through and be directed to additional help and guidance. We now have 135 MHFAs throughout the business.
In this series, we speak to some of the MHFA volunteers, to learn more about the role and why they decided to get involved.

Here, Natalie Pinder, Digital Scrum Master, Green Flag, tells us her story.
 

Why did you decide to become a MHFA?

Like many people who are drawn to working with mental health, I have a personal connection it. I have suffered with anxiety and depression for almost half my life. It started when I was a teenager – the pressure of looking ‘right’ led to me developing an eating disorder, and the issues around this still haunt me today. My experience means that I understand the impact that mental health challenges can have, and I also know how important getting the right help is when you are suffering. I really struggled with post-natal depression after having both of my children which meant that I had to take some time off work, and Direct Line Group couldn’t have done more to support me through this. The opportunity to become a MHFA really felt like my chance to give something back.
 

1 in 4 people experience mental health problems

What has your experience of being a MHFA been like so far?

I started the role in June 2018 and it has been quite full on since then. There are loads of reasons that people seek help from the MHFAs – often it is work pressures, or issues with their personal lives and families. But one of the areas I have really focused on is male mental health. My department is very male dominated and I am aware that there is a real challenge with men feeling able to talk about and seek support for their mental health, so I have worked hard to encourage this. At first I wasn’t sure if men – particularly older men - would want to talk to me, but it has been incredible how quickly they have responded. They’ve really leapt at the chance and it just shows me how much they have needed an outlet. It helps that men have started talking more openly in the public eye about their mental health challenges, and my department are picking up on that and benefitting from it; they started sending me articles and blogs they’ve seen - often high-profile sportsmen discussing their stories. I’ve encouraged them to share them around the department themselves, to show that this is a common issue amongst men and to enable them to feel more able to talk about their own struggles. 

How does your MHFA work fit around your usual role at Direct Line Group?

As Digital Scrum Master, a big part of my role is helping to remove barriers that stop people doing their jobs – whether personal or professional. So in many ways the two roles are complementary, a lot of the skills are transferrable - it’s actually surprising how much one can feed into the other. For example, we adopt an Agile way of working in my department, and this has a lot in common with the approach used in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which I’ve benefitted from in the past. Both emphasise the value of communication and of breaking things down into manageable chunks, as well as learning from what how things have gone in the past to make changes for the future. I can use these ideas for my work as a MHFA, and as a Digital Scrum Master.

The other thing that helps me juggle both roles is all of the support I get from my department and from the management. We do need to be able to take time away from our usual roles to be a MHFA, and without this support it just wouldn’t be possible.

What do you think are the key skills for a MHFA?

 

It’s really important to know all of the resources and services that are available – like Health Assured which is fantastic as a first point of call for various issues, or Mind or other local mental health services. This enables us to signpost and help people choose the right next step. Reaching out for help in the first place can be really scary for people though, they don’t always find it easy to take the next step and I often offer to be by their side while they do, if it’s helpful.

Empathy is of course really important – you have to keep an open mind and not be judgemental or opinionated. We are here to listen and to encourage people to decide for themselves what they need, it’s not our job to give them our perspective. Sometimes this is the hardest skill. We learn how to talk but we never really learn how to listen. I think the skills I learnt during the training and from being a MHFA are essential life skills that everyone would benefit from – they just make you a nicer person.

Telling my own story has been really helpful for me, and I hope it has also made it easier for others to approach me. I think you are more likely to go to someone who you know will understand what it is like to struggle with your mental health. I really believe it’s important to be open and I hope my experience will encourage other people to talk and seek the help they need.

To find out more about our Mental Health and Wellbeing policies click here