MHFA’s Role in Returning to Work

Mental Health First Aiders help with the transition and anxiety during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This article considers the many reasons employees may feel anxious and express anxiety about returning to the workplace. It suggests signs you may notice as an MHFAider and what you might do to provide support.

Reassurance through MHFA

As the months go past and we move through the Covid-19 pandemic, many people are experiencing anxiety. This can be heightened by returning to the office and the life which had previously been normal. This anxiety can have a detrimental effect on their mental health and wellbeing. Mental Health First Aiders can provide reassurance through MHFA to help manage the transition.

At the recent Networking and Support Group for MHFAiders we discussed how we might assist people feeling anxious and concerned about returning to the office or workplace. The many ideas have been collated and are shared to help others providing MHFA.

Reasons employees may experience anxiety

The first thing we did was think about different perspectives. Everyone will have their own reasons for their concern. Each is valid and real to them. Understanding this is valuable when offering support. The reasons for anxiety (and it became a long list) included:

  • Travelling on public transport and the risks of infection
  • Wanting to protect their family
  • Fear of becoming ill themselves
  • Anxiety about not being able to make long term plans and fear of a second wave
  • Anxiety about things in the short-term including job security, holiday plans, etc
  • Juggling care responsibilities, particularly those who have been home schooling children whilst working
  • Conflicting messages from different sources leading to confusion
  • Professional anxiety about whether they can still do their job after months on furlough leave
  • Tension between those continuing to work and those who have been furloughed
  • Lack of communication from their employer so feel disconnected and unsure what is happening
  • Needing personal space to feel safe, and people having different levels of space
  • Understanding the new ‘etiquette’ at work eg how to behave in meetings
  • Adjusting to higher noise levels, particularly if people were alone during lockdown
  • Others not taking ownership for safe working eg not wearing face masks
  • Anxiety around other illnesses that display symptoms that could be Covid-19
  • Those in positions of keeping people safe at work, feeling the weight of responsibility

 

Signs that indicate anxiety

Refreshing learning from MHFA training, the physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms were discussed and what might be noticeable.

  • Physical symptoms people may mention could include headaches, random muscle aches and pains or gastrointestinal problems
  • Changes in behaviour including avoiding mixing with others, being late for work or meetings, appearing unreasonable or uncompromising, or showing erratic behaviour
  • Decrease in work performance, making errors, struggling with decision making, decreased concentration or confusion
  • Appearing tired, restless or generally agitated
  • Short tempered and impatient
  • Taking less care with appearance

 

Remember the key thing to look out for is a change in someone including a worsening of previous symptoms.

Helping via MHFA

As a Mental Health First Aider the five step action plan provides the framework for support. Key points identified were:

  • Take the time to listen, in a non-judgemental way so the employee has the opportunity to share their concerns
  • Approach with understanding, helping them put their anxiety into context and recognise that many people are experiencing symptoms at the moment. Help them normalise their reaction
  • Check out what support your organisation is providing. If you have an EAP scheme look at what they can provide or offer as information.
  • Identify where you might signpost them for support. Some people may require professional medical support.  Others may be able to implement some helpful coping strategies and you can help them work out what would be useful for them.
  • Help them identify who else is in their support network, including recognising the benefit of mutual support talking to others experiencing similar feelings.

 

Above all remember, MHFA is about non-judgement listening, not diagnosing or advising; and signposting to appropriate help.

Contact us for details

Protea Solutions provides a range of training options to support employee mental health including Mental Health First Aid courses accredited by MHFA England. These are offered as both public open courses and run within organisations. Contact us to find out how we can help you support your employees or contact us if you would like to find out more information and join our next MHFA Networking and Support Group.

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