The importance of mental health first aid and anti-racism training
- Guest blog
We’re committed to transforming our organisation and creating workplace culture and practices that are supportive and welcoming. In 2022 we worked with Empower Develop People managing director Bianca Jones to deliver mental health first-aid training to Bristol Beacon staff. This was an excellent introduction and empowered members of our team to provide support.
We’re now working to provide this mental health training to more of our team along with anti-racism training to further improve awareness and work culture.
We spoke to Bianca to discuss the intersection of mental health first-aid and anti-racism training, the power of talking about your own struggles, toxic workplace culture and tips for keeping your own wellbeing in check.
Our guest blogger
Bianca is the managing director of Empower Develop People (EDP), an award winning company specialising in Mental Health and wellbeing training. Bianca is well established within Bristol as an anti-racism practitioner and MHFA Trainer, and also an active member of the CIPD specialising in learning and development.
Last year, Bianca worked with us to deliver Mental Health First Aid training to Bristol Beacon staff. Her lived experience of depression and anxiety helps her to deliver authentic training and also highlights the importance of prevention, self-help and empowering people to take control of their own wellbeing.
“There is so much more to self-care than just having a bath.”
What is mental health training and what does it mean to be a mental health first aider?
Mental health training is for individuals and employees to understand what mental health is first and foremost. It covers how poor mental health develops and some of the common signs and symptoms so that people can spot it and be proactive.
With training, we counteract ignorance and fear because a lot of people are scared to talk about mental health – because we can’t see it.
Why is a prevention model in the workplace important and why do you think having a colleague you trust and know as a mental health first aider is helpful?
It’s so vital in workplaces that there is that person that people can be signposted to, that they can go to for support from an early stage.
If everybody had a baseline of understanding around mental health, there would be more support and conversations about it, preventing it from getting to the crisis point. It’s about company culture and that everybody can feel trust and that They can talk to people about anything and be able to bring their whole selves to work.
How does mental health awareness fit into that blueprint for making the community better?
People talking about their own mental health is such a power. It can make such a difference.
If we can do that in work culture – where everyone’s talking about their wellbeing and their mental health – I think that is attractive to the next generations that are coming through to workplaces and organizations as well.
Do you think that awareness is improving? Is it easier to have those conversations the more you work in that space?
There’s some organizations and workplaces where it’s more of an issue. Things like uniforms can be a barrier. If we think about police officers, there’s added layers there for why people aren’t talking about their mental health and wellbeing. And in the construction industry there’s a pandemic – that industry has the highest suicide rates.
If you’re a line manager, talking about your own mental health and wellbeing or possible struggles is an instant way to reduce stigma.
As well as mental health awareness training, you facilitate anti-racism training. Are there connections between those two things?
I have lots of experience on the ground and I started to see a lot of disparities happening for particularly black and brown people in the mental health services in England. I wanted to try and sort out some of the disparities through the training of what racism is and how it impacts on mental health and wellbeing.
Statistics show us that black and brown people fair much worse in the mental health institution in England – there’s no kind of preventative measure and they are more likely to be sectioned. On average, black and brown people make up about 30% of the total people in mental health hospitals in England. Black and brown people make up 15% of England and Wales, so there’s a clear overrepresentation there. Even more so than the prison systems, where the average is about 25%.
That’s part of the reason why I wanted to create the courses to raise awareness in the workplace. The ripple effect of allyship then has an effect on the person that’s been on the course, their family, friends, and eventually into the mental health institutions in England.
It’s clear that all of these things are interlinked. Do you find that’s one of the hardest challenges for organizations to acknowledge – to be aware of some of those disparities both within anti-racism and mental health?
I am seeing that organisations have a willingness, but they don’t have the how. If your policies and procedures have been created by people from the majority – they don’t have the lens of the minoritized, so they’re going to naturally exclude. But organisations are aware of it.
Change is needed. Real education and proper actions. But if we didn’t change the culture, if we didn’t do any racism education, if we didn’t look at how it can manifest in the workplace, and if we didn’t understand systemic racism – the problem’s still there.
You work with lots of different sections of society and organizations. Does anything regularly surprise you about working with people in that way?
People are always shocked by how common it is. Someone may have worked with a colleague for years and have no idea of how they may be struggling with their mental health because apart from “hi, how are you?”, we don’t talk about this.
It comes back to the role model behaviour coupled with awareness and education to get rid of the ignorance around things. We want to create a developmental culture for organizations where we can have these conversations.
At Bristol Beacon, we’ve gone through some equality, diversity and inclusion training and there’s actions to be had after that. But one element was asking us how much of ourselves do we bring to work – is that something you affiliate with?
There’s lots of parallels between mental health training and anti-racism training. People think it’s taboo. There’s a lack of knowledge around it – it can be quite emotive.
We need to create the culture where everyone can be their true selves – not being your authentic self at work is damaging to your psychological health and you won’t be reaching your full potential either.
What do you think an organization like us should do after receiving mental health training?
It’s a good idea to look at specialist areas and get trainers with lived experience from the LGBTQ+ community, on menopause, on neurodiversity, from black and brown people – so you can understand the nuances and also the separate challenges and factors that face that group of people as well.
It’s always helpful to do some upskilling for different groups of people as well and just have more of a strategy around it.
You regularly post monthly positive things around mental health. What’s your tip for this month?
I think stress is something that people don’t really understand. This is a great time to upskill and give people knowledge about managing stress because it’s an ongoing thing.
I do my five a day for my brain, which can be a 10 minute body scan, meditations, some breathing exercises, affirmations, manifestation, gratitude journal, looking at pictures of my daughter, looking at pets – invoking positive emotions.
Having a break will make a difference to your stress levels. We were never made for this world that we live in – we’ve got an outdated fight-flight-freeze part of our brain. A way to counteract that is to do our “me time” and self-care.
There is so much more to self-care than just having a bath. It can be boundaries, saying no, organising things, having quiet time, hobbies or going where you feel loved.
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