"Sometimes things happen in life and your mental health suffers and I think it is important we all try to support each other, and I want everyone at the firm to know that help is available."
Bethany Walls, Mental Health First Aider
According to Mind, at any one time, at least one in six workers are experiencing common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. Mental health is something everyone possesses and poor mental health can affect anyone at any time.
In 2019, we made a commitment to improve and raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing. Our aim being to create an inclusive environment where our team feels they can be their true self at work, open and supported throughout their GE journey.
To begin, we launched a Mind mental health survey with our team, which we now undertake every year. This gives us an indication of how we are performing and what areas we can improve.
One of the key initiatives from this survey was the need for mental health first aiders in our workplace to provide another avenue of support for the team.
Bethany Walls (BW) and Kavan Cheema (KC) qualified in November 2020 as GE’s first mental health first aiders. We caught up with them to discuss why raising mental health awareness is so important and how they will be supporting the GE team.
Why did you want to become a mental health first aider?
KC: My aim in becoming a mental health first aider is to raise awareness, reduce stigma and discrimination, but also to listen and open up conversations with individuals to provide comfort and support when needed.
Mental health is something that affects each and every one of us, in different ways. It’s something that I feel is not openly talked about enough and not always addressed appropriately.
BW: Similarly to Kavan, I believe mental health and wellbeing isn’t focused on enough by people or companies. If someone is physically ill it is usually obvious and people tend to be accommodating and empathetic, but when it comes to mental health, people often find it difficult to know how to react and can be a little bit ignorant to the severity and validity of it.
I’ve had people close to me, including people in my immediate family, suffer from mental ill health and experienced first-hand how much of an impact it can have on your life. I feel there is very much still a stigma around mental ill health and an association that it means your weak or incompetent, but this is not the case at all, one of the strongest people I know has endured a mental health illness. Sometimes things happen in life and your mental health suffers and I think it is important we all try to support each other, and I want everyone at the firm to know that help is available.
How will you be supporting the team and when should the team speak to you?
KC: We provide the team with someone unbiased to speak to, whether they have a problem they wish to discuss or simply want a chat. We’re another option, outside of their manager and HR.
People can have the confidence to approach us because we will maintain confidentiality. Nothing they say, unless their life is in immediate danger, will be shared with anyone else.
Nothing is too small. People don’t need to approach us because a problem is affecting their work. It could be that they are just feeling low, demotivated, and need someone to speak to.
BW: Definitely, sometimes people are afraid to go to management or HR with an issue as they feel it could go on their record and they’re not ready for that yet. They might also be suffering from a problem that isn’t affecting their performance at work, so might not see the issue as work-related or significant. We are not therapists or experts, but from our training we do have an understanding of a range of mental health issues and we can help. In some circumstances this may be to recommend other services or refer you to a healthcare professional, or it may just be to listen and support.
People can speak to us whenever they want, we’re here for a reason and happy to have a chat. It can be very casual, you don’t need to have a serious mental health issue to speak to us. It may be that someone is just feeling a little stressed and wants to vent, and we’re happy to grab a coffee and listen.
Your top tips for positive mental health
BW: In general, I think it’s a case of remembering that everyone goes through hard times, it is normal, and make sure you talk to someone about it if you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Whenever you do bottle up emotions, it can actually make it worse and escalate to a point where you are in a position where you might be suffering from serious mental ill health, which is harder to treat.
My advice to anyone who is feeling stressed or going through a hard time is to not be afraid to approach us, HR or your manager. Tell whoever you want, but speak to someone about it and know there are solutions and help available.
KC: I think it’s important to try to understand what causes us stress, so that we can take greater control and action to manage our stress levels. A model I found very helpful is to think of a stress-container. This is a container that fills up with our daily stresses and we need to make sure it doesn’t fill up and overflow. To ensure this doesn’t happen, you need to establish healthy releases or coping strategies. For some, it could be exercising, others mindfulness. Just make sure you do something that works for you and helps you to switch off from the stresses around you.
Why it is important to you that businesses have a mental health strategy?
KC: It is one of the most talked about issues at the moment. In some ways, mental health is becoming a bigger concern than Covid-19. It is such a big issue affecting so many people and it’s important to give your team options. For example, as well as mental health first aiders, we have an Employee Assistance Program to give the team options of people to speak to, such as professional counselling too. It’s important that employees feel supported.
I would recommend all businesses to encourage positive conversations around mental health and ensure everyone is committed. If just a handful of staff or management are ignorant of mental health, it can affect the whole culture of the business.
BW: I agree, and it actually also costs businesses a huge amount of money each year, so it is in their best interest to have a mental health strategy. Sick days, poor performance and even employees leaving a firm can all be because of mental ill health. We need to try and help people maintain their mental wellbeing, and prevent people getting to this point as much as possible. To do this, we need to give employees avenues of people they can talk to, reduce mental health stigma and support those who are struggling.
As corny as it sounds, it’s ok to not be ok, and it’s normal to get stressed or down, but you don’t need to suffer alone, there is help available. It doesn’t mean you’re not capable of your job or not good enough. If all businesses addressed this issue and took mental health seriously, we’d have organisations full of happier, more productive employees.
From 2021, it will be a legal requirement to have as many mental health first aiders as traditional first aiders. We are committed to continue to improve and promote mental health awareness and the discussion in the wider business community.Back to top