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Keeping MHFA's connected and supported during a pandemic

We had just finished training a 200 strong MHFA team when the pandemic hit! The plan was to launch the programme, sharing the purpose and introducing all of the team to the wider business.  Mars had made a huge investment and commitment to support its associates and their mental health and wellbeing so we wanted to shout about it.     

However the reality of what happened couldn’t have been further from the plan, in March 2020 we went into the country’s first lockdown and were instructed to work from home.  So before we could even officially launch the MHFA programme we were thrown into a situation never seen or experienced before, having to quickly use the skills we’d just been taught.   

As a newly trained team this was tough, we were having to immediately deal with unknown situations and signpost and support those who had started to flag anxiety and struggles.  As the pandemic continued the impact on the associates mental health was starting to show and we were having more and more conversations with our teams.  
As we continued to get used to working from home, balancing childcare and everything else, Isolation fast became an issue.  People withdrew from daily interactions and what followed were months / years of high stress, anxiety, fear of the unknown, of catching COVID and ultimately fear of dying or losing loved ones.  A lot of people were struggling to come to terms with this which meant the team of MHFA’s had a lot to deal with.  We knew we had to keep ourselves mentally healthy in order to signpost and support others but a few of the team did take a step away to look after themselves.   

So what did we do...

In May 2020 just after the first lockdown started myself and a couple of the other MHFA’s introduced what we call the ‘community connection call’ This is a periodic meeting to check in on us, share any experiences or struggling and learn how others may have handled situations.  It’s a safe space where people can share openly and honestly.  We also invite guest speakers to talk to us a group to build our knowledge and share insights, they range from Simon Blake CEO MHFA England to the Chaplin from Leicestershire Police, Fire and Rescue service who came to share some of his lived experiences which was a really thought provoking session.  There were some synergies that we took from this session and reminders that we aren’t there to council people or give advice but to signpost people to the correct resources when they need it.          

What did we learn? 3 key things:

1. Build your community, this helps the team of MHFA’s feel supported. 
2. Create a safe space for people to share, some of the conversations we have can be tough so sharing and taking learnings without breaking confidentiality can really help.  
3. Prioritise yourself, look for signs that you as an MHFA might need to take some time out.  

On reflection, the community meetings we’d created helped me to get through the last 2 years, that shared sense of purpose kept me going during tough times.  Never once did I feel alone, or like I was carrying the emotions of everyone I spoke to as an MHFA.  I knew that the community we’d created would help me just like anyone else if I needed support.  

Dawn Kirk
Customer Service Team Lead - Mars
This Can Happen Ambassador

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I left with renewed energy, practical solutions and confident with the knowledge that having a Wellbeing Strategy should happen, must happen, can happen! Looking forward to 2020 already!

Karen Greville-Woods, Office Manager, Withers & Rogers Group LLP