As we approach almost a year of living with Covid restrictions, taking care of our mental health has never been more important. There are numerous resources for students and staff, including counselling, the Employee Assistance Programme, and Togetherall – an online resource available 24/7.
There is also a specially trained team of Mental Health First Aiders across the Conservatoire who are there to listen, talk and provide you with the right resources, should you need them.
We spoke to Joyce Watchorn, Payroll Manager and Mental Health First Aider, to find out more about the MHFA service.
Q. Where you are working from currently?
I commute three days a week to my ‘office’ – at my mum’s house! For the rest of the working week, I split my time between my kitchen, living room and bedroom depending which room my two teenage boys have commandeered for their home-schooling lessons.
Q. How long have you been a Mental Health First Aider and what initially interested you to the position?
I have been a Mental Health First Aider for almost three years now, and undertook training from a professional agency. My reason for taking on this additional training was, and still is, simple; it is quite apparent that many people find it easier to talk to someone who isn’t too close to them.
I have suffered, and still suffer, from mental health issues and can say first-hand that it is sometimes so much easier talking to someone from ‘the outside’.
There are Mental Health First Aiders from across the whole institution so this gives people a chance of talking to someone from another team or department without fear of judgement or upsetting anyone.
It is important for you to say exactly how you feel without worrying if you are going to upset the person you are talking to. A Mental Health First Aider removes that fear and allows you to talk freely.
Q. Tell us about being a Mental Health First Aider. What does it entail and who can access this service?
The role of a Mental Health First Aider is not to solve the problem but to provide a sticking plaster effect. To be there as a first point of contact, to provide comfort and reassurance, and to help guide the person to the relevant professional services that they might require.
Sometimes it is reaching out and recognising that someone might need a person to say “How are you doing – you don’t look yourself today?”
In RCS, any employee that is in need of a hug, an ear, a cup of tea or just someone to be there can access it – albeit remotely at this time.
Q. How do you get in touch with a MHFA?
There is a list of a dozen trained MHFAs on the portal from every area of RCS. You can get in touch by simply calling them on Teams or reaching out through the chat function. Using Microsoft Teams means you’ll be able to see who is online and available to talk.
Q. It’s not always easy reaching out to discuss mental health. What can we expect to happen if we contacted a MHFA?
Someone who understands. Someone who isn’t going to judge you, no matter what situation/emotional state you are in and will treat your conversation as confidential.
Quite simply, someone who cares and wants to be there for you to guide you to the professional service you may need or not if you aren’t ready.
Q. During the pandemic it’s become more important than ever to look after our mental health. Do you have any tips or advice you can share to help us through this lockdown?
During lockdown I have found isolation really difficult – people who know me know I like a good chat! The chance meeting and chat in the corridor, nipping into someone’s office to ask something, lifting a phone to ask a question – all these things are missing.
My tip is easy – TALK
T: Take time to lift “a phone” and talk. Teams can be your phone call or your trip to an office. Sometimes that personal interaction is all you need to lift your mood. Use the “Café Bar – BYOC” Teams meet up area – there will always be someone wanting a coffee and a chat.
A: Anxious, angry, alone – we are all feeling these emotions at some point during lockdown. Always remember there are friends/colleagues out there that will be there for you. Reach out.
L: Laugh! There is always something to laugh/smile about, it is just a case of contacting someone to try and find it. It is ok to be silly at times.
K: Be kind to yourself and recognise when you need some time for you.
If you’ve not already joined the Café Bar Teams group, you can join the group – just remember to bring your own cup!