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How Mental Health First Aid helped me survive Covid-19

Margaret Reeves, managing director of event tech firm RefTech, on how her Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training helped her navigate Covid-19 both personally and professionally.

Last year I completed a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course, and I’m so very grateful that I was equipped with that specialist knowledge and deeper understanding of mental health when the pandemic hit and ripped apart our industry.

Like most event industry suppliers, we have been hit very hard and we’ve had to pare down our team and make redundancies. We are a family company that prides ourselves on our inclusive, fair and family focused approach, but of course this makes it so much harder for everyone when redundancies had to be made and we needed to lose some of our close knit team.

My MHFA training has been a godsend. Over the last few months, it has been very clear to me that not everyone is the same and that different people are dealing with different family issues, whether that be coping with home schooling, dealing with isolating children or elderly parents, partners working overtime or even losing their jobs.

Reactions to the pandemic have also varied wildly – as some of the team have taken it in their stride, whilst others have felt a lot more stressed and anxious. Some of our team reacted really well to being furloughed, whilst others found it really difficult. The course taught me to appreciate that there is no right or wrong way for people to deal with it all. I’ve accepted those differences and I have also accepted that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to helping my team does not work.

Some of our team are working remotely, some are furloughed full time and others part-time – but no-one was working from the office during the first lockdown. The move to home working meant that it was vitally important for me to check in with everyone on a regular basis to ensure that they doing ok. ‘Checking in’ could mean a call, an email or sometimes seeing if a colleague has spoken to them recently. Again, everyone is different and everyone likes to be communicated with in different ways.

I have found that it’s all about balance; I’m trained, but I am not a professional counsellor. I wanted staff to know that I’m here if and when they need me – my door is always open (even if that’s figuratively!). The impact that it’s had on the management team is also huge and I’m very grateful that many of our team have also been checking in on me, to make sure that I’m handling everything ok, and that I am taking time away from the business for R&R too. As someone once said, we are all in the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat and having that appreciation of those differences has really helped me to help my team.

The pandemic has already had a huge impact on everyone’s mental health but the full cost is still yet to be seen. I hope that more companies recognise this and invest now in a Mental Health First Aid course for their staff to ensure that our industry is not only operationally and financially fit, but mentally fit to face the coming year as we start to rebuild.