This Mental Health Awareness Week, we spoke with Senior Preconstruction Manager Phil Honey about his role as a Mental Health First Aider at Inland Homes, why he thinks it’s important we all take the time to check in on each other and the need to end the stigma that still exists around mental health.
Inland has nine Mental Health First Aiders across the business who act as a point of contact for an employee who is experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress. This interaction could range from having an initial conversation through to supporting the individual to get appropriate help in a crisis. Mental Health First Aiders can spot the signs of mental ill health and are valuable in providing early support for someone who may be developing a mental health issue.
Why did you choose to become a Mental Health First Aider?
There are a few reasons why I chose to become a Mental Health First Aider.
Firstly, my previous employer was making a big push to educate as many of their staff as they could, so I took advantage of the opportunity to attend the course five years ago. How the brain functions and understanding people’s unique behaviour are topics I have always found very interesting and, as expected, the course did not disappoint. The feedback from those on the course was that they felt emotionally exhausted at the end of it because it was demanding in a very unique way it was rewarding as well.
The main reason I volunteered to be a Mental Health First Aider, unfortunately, is because I have a couple of friends that really struggle with their mental health and, quite simply, I wanted to help them. I know of way too many cases where people (all men in my experience) that have made an unchangeable decision and taken their own lives.
You don’t need me to tell you how devastating this is for the families and friends of anyone left behind in the aftermath of something so terrible. Words haven’t been invented to convey the depth of the emotions that people experience when dealt this specific type of grief. Some people choose ‘regular’ first aid because they want to be prepared in the event of an emergency – whilst I appreciate that some people are squeamish and don’t do blood, I do think schools should dedicate some time teaching youngsters first aid, including mental first aid. It’s good to be prepared.
What does ‘Mental Health’ mean to you?
Even now, just writing the words ‘Mental Health’ it serves me up negative thoughts. It shouldn’t, but it does. It covers an incredibly wide spectrum of conditions such as anxiety, phobias, eating disorders, depression, PTSD, addictions to name a few wonderfully frightening afflictions that many people suffer from. It is almost a mathematical certainty that many of our colleagues will either be suffering directly from some form of mental illness or are living with someone that is suffering, which can be just as devastating. These debilitating problems can strike anyone so don’t go thinking ‘Why is **enter celebrity name here** suffering from depression? They’ve got a wonderful life!’.
It is true that money and fame does not exclude anyone from mental illness just like it doesn’t exclude famously wealthy people from headaches, broken legs or COVID. Writing or talking about ‘physical health’ is so much easier isn’t it? Experiencing physical pain or visibly seeing someone’s injury are easy to understand because from a very young age we experience illness and pain a lot so we ‘get it’.
When someone is being physically sick (apologies to those that have a phobia of this topic) it is tangible and everyone would expect that person to take a day or two off from work. There are many, just as frightening, physical diseases, illnesses and injuries that I could list to readdress the balance but I didn’t want to completely upset and alienate my new colleagues just yet. I think what I’m trying to say is that, although attitudes are definitely improving, there isn’t the same sort of ‘weakness’ stigma associated with a physical problem that there is when someone suffers from a mental illness.
To me, non-physical illnesses require, at the very least, the same amount of understanding, empathy and compassion that are given to people that suffer from a physical or ‘non-brain’ condition. I should add here that, to me, there is no difference and certainly no shame in taking medication to help with mental conditions just as we use medicine to help us with our physical aches and pains.
On a lighter note – feeling a bit sad, upset, frustrated, a bit down, angry and even grief are all perfectly normal emotions. We are supposed to experience the ups and downs of life so we shouldn’t go about thinking we are mentally ill because of normal, everyday feelings. However, if your daily life is truly being affected and you feel that you cannot cope at work or at home, maybe it is time to do something about it.
What advice can you share for those who might be struggling at the moment?
Fortunately, just like with our physical health, there are plenty of things that we can all do to keep our mental health in the best possible shape. I’m not an expert in any of these fields but there really is a lot of help out there. If you wanted to improve your physical health, you might try different diets or different types of exercise until you find something that works. My advice with regards to mental wellbeing is the same - keep trying to find the help that is personally right for you until it works. Especially you men out there - when it comes to something as important as your mental health, and you think you may have lost your way - ask for directions!