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14 September 2021

Paul’s Story – Mental Health First Aid Courses

In conjunction with Mental Health First Aid England, Racing Welfare runs national mental health training courses allowing racing staff to take part in either a half-day training course or a more in-depth two-day course to become a qualified Mental Health First Aider. The courses are designed to give an understanding of what mental health is and the confidence to support someone in distress who may be experiencing a mental health issue.

Paul’s Story of becoming a MHFAider®

The skills it has taught me and the empathetic thinking were more useful than ever during the pandemic.

Paul Swain, who works for the Racecourse Association, tells us how becoming a MHFAider® has helped him support people at work:

I undertook the MHFA training in 2019 and it has been invaluable, even before the Covid-19 pandemic. During the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 the skills and empathetic thinking I learned were more useful than ever. The main thing I wanted to get across to anyone, be it work or personal, is that it’s important to keep talking.

Paul reflects on COVID-19 and mental health at work.

Many of my friends and colleagues were separated from loved ones and some were living alone. I fall into this category too having been kept apart from my partner due to them falling into the vulnerable category and needing to self-isolate. With many colleagues being furloughed, the first thing was to establish a twice-weekly video call with our office. This involved everyone and wasn’t really even about work; we organised quizzes, discussed pets, weekend plans etc. to keep people motivated and engaged.

People would dip in and out of it and, for those who didn’t participate, I would follow up with a short text or WhatsApp just to ask how they were doing. Sometimes, they’d leave it at a text reply which is fine, other times they wanted to chat one-on-one which was also fine. I spent a good few hours just talking to people.

We can't ask ourselves for support but we can reserve time to keep to ourselves and undertake activities that we know work for us.

WhatsApp groups with friends are fantastic and you can keep in touch so readily. Of course, it’s not the same as being in a room or at the pub, but it’s the next best thing and we all have compromises to make. Online gaming, too, is a great outlet and brings people together with a competitive element – a good thing to get the adrenaline pumping and separate from the mundanity of lockdown.

It goes without saying, but empathy has to be at the forefront of your thoughts. We’re all individuals and will react differently to this situation, so bear that in mind when having multiple conversations. What works for some definitely will not work for others. It’s also important to look after yourself, too. We can’t ask ourselves for support, but we can reserve time to keep to ourselves and undertake activities that we know work for us. Equally, find someone you can talk to and talk to them; it’s amazing when the shoe is on the other foot how much you have to offload and how much better you feel as a result.”

My top tips as a Mental Health First Aider

  • Keep talking! Be it on the phone/video/text, any communication is good. Let those who need the help know you’re there and dictate the medium of how this communication is done.
  • Avoid constant social media trawling. There is more false info and negativity than ever, and the echo chambers that are our social media platforms can transform any problem into a catastrophe.
  • Introduce specific activities for group calls. Quizzes/online gaming/set conversation topics are a great way to keep chat flowing and encourage shyer people to be involved.
  • Ensure you have a confidant to ease your own pressure gauge.
  • Don’t be afraid or guilty of treating yourself. We have enough stresses to be dealing with, that daily cup of tea and homemade cookie is the least you deserve.
  • The old mantra ‘this too will pass’. It is so true.

How other MHFAiders® have benefitted

If you are interested in taking part in a Mental Health First Aid Course you can find out more here.