I first heard about Mental Health First Aiders at an Abta convention a few years ago. Journalist and author Bryony Gordon, who interviewed Prince Harry when he opened up about his mental health, was on stage talking about what companies can do to support their staff.
As part of that session she asked the audience of travel executives how many of them had struggled with their mental health at some point in their life. Slowly hands started to go up. Not just a few either, it could have been almost a quarter of the room. My friend sitting on the same row had his arm in the air.
I couldn’t help feeling that if another question had followed, asking people if they have supported a friend, family member or colleague with mental ill health, then well over half the delegates would have their hands raised.
The fact that a major industry conference had mental health on the main stage, proved that even before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, a mental health crisis was already gaining momentum. A modern-day plague, exacerbated perhaps by our frantic, always-on lifestyles.
I applaud the media, including TTG, for reporting sensitively on the topic and opening up discussions, at a time when the mental health of many in our industry is being tested to the limit.
And yet, I can’t help feeling that many companies are keen to virtue signal without investing and really digging deeper to understand what’s going on. Because the reality is that, left untreated, mental illness can create behaviour that’s hard to fathom unless those around you are equipped with a basic understanding of the warning signs.
Last month I was given the opportunity to train as a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA). During the autumn lockdown, I joined a group of 12 people from a wide range of industries for tutor-hosted online classes and discussions, supported with online learning, reading and tests.
One of the first things we talked about was our own wellbeing. Our tutor talked about the “stress container”, a virtual glass beaker filled with thoughts about work, family, health, home and finances. At what point does your container become near capacity and threaten to overflow?