Over 3 million people have been trained in mental health first aid worldwide. Many have been called upon to support colleagues during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the roles of these first responders can be emotionally challenging and it’s key that systems are in place to ensure they too receive support if needed.
Tim Ladd, the forward-thinking Managing Director of mental health training and care provider Red Umbrella recently posted on LinkedIn about a new networking platform created to provide just the kind of support that mental health first aiders might need. It’s called MH FAN – short for Mental Health First Aid Network.
MH FAN is an independent online networking community for mental health first aiders from all over the world. The platform allows those who sign up to connect with others, send messages, post stories, share ideas and access the learning resources area.
Even though the platform is not officially being launched until 14th September, it’s growing daily. With several hundred members from different countries representing a range of employers, it already has a nice community building.
Tim said: “All mental health first aiders are welcome. They not only get to post and network with the mental health first aider community. If they wish, they can access resources and weekly webinars provided by fully accredited BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy) therapists. We are on there to network, support and encourage”.
The network is free to join. A subscription at a nominal cost will most likely be put in place to cover the costs of the platform, but this is not on the agenda until 2021. When it is introduced, it will be decided in consultation with the MH FAN community.
Tim said: “The goal is to help as many mental health first aiders as possible and to enhance their effectiveness”.
Internal vs. external networks
Some employers might already have an internal sharing platform for their mental health first aiders – perhaps using Yammer or another similar tool. Tim explained however: “The advantage of MH FAN is the independent BACP accredited supervision, plus the community driven webinars and resources. The MH FAN community provides a melting pot of ideas and experiences – from different companies, sectors and countries”.
To clarify, mental health supervision is not a legal requirement. However, Tim said: “It makes sense for mental health first aiders to have access to as much professional support as possible and as much organised peer support as possible”.
“Members might be from different companies in the same sector, different sectors, or from organisations on completely different sides of the world. The beauty is that wherever they are, community members can support each other in a safe space”.
Should a company want to have their own closed group this can also be formed on the site.
Tim explained: “Ultimately, MH FAN is a platform to help mental health first aiders interact with other mental health first aiders. It’s better when it’s organised independently from the employer. People feel more able to be open about their experiences”.
Spreading the word
When Tim announced the initiative on LinkedIn, he immediately received a positive response.
Positive feedback on Tim’s post included Dylan Shimmon, Performance Manager at EasyJet who commented: “What a fantastic resource. Just registered! Looking forward to engaging with and supporting one another”.
Nikki Francis, Human Resources Manager at The Telemarking Company wrote: “Perfectly timed for me as I am just about to complete my mental health first aid training. All registered, thank you”.
Suzanne Smith, Principal HR Consultant at Belvoir Human Resources added: “Super idea in such challenging times in the workplace”.
Tim told me that since then, several companies are in the process of loading-up to the site their company-wide network of mental health first aiders.
Jo-Anna Sell led the MHFA team at pharmaceutical company MSD and prior to that was a mental health first aider when she worked for Astra Zeneca. She has now become a MHFA instructor which is part of her role as Head of Wellbeing for Paws In Work.
However, there were times when Jo-Anna found it hard to detach herself. She explained: “Dealing with very difficult situations can take it’s toll on your own mental health if you don’t have good support around you. Communication is key.”
For this reason, Jo-Anna believes that the MH FAN platform is a much needed initiative. She said: “Having access to a wider group of people that share similar experiences, have questions, want to share their knowledge and continue their learning is a great idea”
Above and beyond
The platform also has a free digital 3D toolbox and E-learning area supplied by Red Umbrella that’s constantly updated. Going forwards, as it’s an independent platform, MH FAN is interested in uploading useful materials from other sources too.
What we’re learning from COVID-19 is that employers have to be ready to innovate and think outside the box to be responsive to crises. It’s interesting to see Tim Ladd propelling forward innovation in this space and we look forward to hearing more about the MH FAN community.
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