Thu, 09 Jan 2020

With the festive season firmly behind us, talk of the ‘January blues’ has begun again. Blue Monday, typically the third Monday of the month, is claimed to be the most depressing day of the year, due in part to the gloomy weather and financial woes following Christmas.

While January often leaves most of us feeling temporarily unhappier, at BNP Paribas Personal Finance we believe that wellbeing and mental health are always important, regardless of the time of year.

It’s because of this commitment to employee wellbeing that we’ve introduced mental health first aiders into our workplace, to help support and guide those who might be struggling.

What is a Mental Health First Aider?

A Mental Health First Aider’s primary purpose is to offer support and guidance. They are trained to spot the early signs of common mental health problems, so that they can help steer those who might be struggling to the right place - be it a charity, support group or other mental health service.

The Mental Health First Aiders are there to listen, but in a more approachable and informal way than a formal meeting with a manager. They are committed to offering time to their peers, whether that’s to discuss work stresses or pressures at home.

Louise’s Story

When we put out an open call for volunteers to become Mental Health First Aiders in our Solihull offices, Louise Connelly, our head of customer insight, was eager to get involved.

Louise says: “Having studied Psychology at university, the mind has always been fascinating to me. Several of my friends and family members have struggled with mental illness, so I was keen to learn more about the subject.

“There are currently 16 Mental Health First Aiders in our offices, and all of us have taken part in a two-day training course with an external trainer. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the training itself, but I was surprised at how emotional the whole experience was.

“A lot of the training was based around real-life scenarios and we learned ways to approach and frame conversations, as well as taking part in role-play exercises, which helped us to understand how best to deal with sensitive situations.

“It was really interesting learning about how much language plays a part in these interactions without us even realising it, and the training emphasised the importance of breaking down the stigma attached to certain words related to mental health.

“In the UK we’re often guilty of not talking to each other about our problems because of the ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude we’ve grown up with. As Mental Health First Aiders we’re here to let people know that it’s ok to talk to each other and, most importantly, that it’s ok not to be ok.

“Although we are not there to solve problems ourselves, we are trained to be able to best guide our peers to the most suitable external help.

“To help us make the most informed decisions, we have charities, such as Samaritans and MIND, come in to explain to us exactly what they do and how they can offer support.

“As the Mental Health First Aiders are a relatively new addition in the office, we are keen on spreading the message about what we do and who we are. For example, all first aiders have a banner that sits at the bottom of their email signoffs, and we also have a wall in the office with information about the Mental Health First Aiders which sits alongside the traditional first aider details.

“We also have a page on the staff intranet dedicated solely to mental health, where employees can browse the other initiatives that BNP Paribas Personal Finance have put in place to improve employee wellbeing.

“One of these initiatives is HealthShield, which is an employee benefit that allows you to claim back some of the cost of wellbeing treatments. Often people struggling with mental health problems also experience physical manifestations, such as their whole body tensing up, and using this scheme they could, for example, claim back the cost of a massage or chiropractor.

“Another initiative we’re keen to promote is our ‘Be Supported’ helpline provided by AXA, which is a confidential helpline available for employees to use 24/7, whether the issue is work related or not.

Looking Ahead

Despite the Mental Health First Aiders only being in place for six months, Louise says you can already notice the difference that their presence in the office has made:

“People are starting to have more conversations about mental health, therefore normalising it, which is what needs to happen in order to break down the stigma surrounding mental health and allow us to deal with the issues together.

“January can be a stressful time for all of us, and it’s great that mental health is being highlighted, but we need to make sure that the conversation continues past this month. Don’t feel daunted about asking for help (or helping someone else), sometimes the smallest thing can make the biggest difference, such as simply reaching out to people and just talking.”