Zuzanna Bolt is Commercial Business Partner at M247. After joining the company on our graduate recruitment scheme, she made a proposal to get a group of colleagues trained up as Mental Health First Aiders to help promote well-being and support at work. Here, Zuzanna explains her motives and why she believes mental health in the workplace is such an important issue

Mental health is a topic very close to my heart

Sadly, I lost one of my best friends to suicide. I think like most people who go through that kind of tragedy, I wanted to know what more I could have done. Not to get wrapped up in what might have been, but so I knew that, if anyone else I was close to or knew was ever going through a bad time in the future, I would be better equipped to recognise the signs, and hopefully be able to reach out to them in the right way.

I think mental health awareness is essential at work. We spend such a large amount of our time there, and our jobs can be a source of stress. But while we might have colleagues we count as friends, people don’t find it easy to confide in work mates, to admit they are struggling. This can be even more so if the issues are personal.

That’s why I believe strongly that there should be structured resources in place to help identify when people need support, and how it can be offered in an appropriate way. Everyone has the right to have a bad day, there shouldn’t be any barriers to reaching out and asking for help.

Addressing mental health at work improves general well-being

I heard about the Mental Health First Aiders scheme and I asked the company if they would introduce it. I wrote a business case and our CEO and Group People Director picked up on it and got right behind the idea.

Initially we had 12 members of staff trained up as Mental Health First Aiders by St John’s Ambulance. That’s a pretty big ratio in a company our size. The training involves raising awareness of common mental health issues, recognising the signs and symptoms, how to approach people and initiate non-judgemental conversations, and how to guide them towards appropriate further support they might need.

Backing the training was a cost to the business, it wasn’t something they had to do. But senior management were very on board with the benefits, it shows they care about their staff and it reflects very positively on the culture of the business. Beyond mental health, the skills and understanding developed through the training promote well-being in the workplace in general, it boils down to how you support and listen to each other.

People have been surprised by what they have learnt

The feedback to the training and to the scheme overall has been very positive. I do think it has surprised people. In general across society, there isn’t a great deal of understanding about mental health, it is still something not enough people feel comfortable talking about. People aren’t used to asking or thinking about why people might act and behave in certain ways, about the fact that there might be underlying reasons as to why they are having a bad day, or that they might really need someone to talk to.

The Mental Health First Aiders scheme helps to challenge the taboos around mental health, by making people more aware of the signs and reasons why a colleague might be struggling and showing them how to reach out. The plan now is to get everyone in the business trained and to bring Mental Health First Aid development in house, so it’s something we’re really looking to embed into the culture of the business.

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