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Spotlight on Joanna Finch, HR Adviser and Mental Health First Aider

Embarking on a mission to prioritise employee well-being, Scitech launched a comprehensive wellbeing programme with a dedicated team of mental health first aiders. Here we talk to HR Adviser Joanna Finch, who oversees the initiative, to delve deeper into its impact and implementation.

Eroding mental health taboos

“There’s been a significant shift in recent years in the public consciousness about the importance of mental health,” says Joanna. “Slowly, we are seeing taboos broken down and people are speaking out. However, there is still more to be done and we know that the construction industry is particularly vulnerable.”

Joanna explains: “Unfortunately, workers in construction continue to be some of the highest risk of suicide in the country, at 3.7 times higher than the national average according to the charity Mates in Mind. We operate within the construction sector, so we are keenly aware of this as an organisation.”

As an HR team, Joanna and her colleagues are continually looking for ways to improve employee wellbeing and ensuring that the organisation provides the right environment for people to be happy at work. At an HR networking event, the idea for Mental Health First Aiders first presented itself.

“In 2019, we attended an insightful talk by Katie Buckingham, the founder and director of Altruist Enterprises at the Surrey and Sussex HR Forum. Katie is extremely passionate about mental health issues, both in the workplace and in a wider setting,” explains Joanna. “She works in partnership with organisations to aid the development of emotionally intelligent managers, enabling them to support themselves and their teams more effectively. After the event, my colleague Emma Dawas (HR Director) and I met Katie to discuss ideas for training a number of our Employees to support colleagues who may be struggling with their mental health .”

Mental Health First Aiders

Scitech’s Mental Health First Aiders are volunteers trained by Mental Health First Aid England to provide initial support to someone experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis until professional help can be obtained or the situation is resolved. Similar to physical first aid, Mental Health First Aid training teaches participants how to recognise common mental health issues, offer initial assistance, and guide individuals toward appropriate professional support and resources.

Talking about why she decided to volunteer to become a Mental Health First Aider, Jo says: “I lost a family member to suicide, so I wanted to become a Mental Health First Aider for personal reasons. The initiative launched with six of us but it has now expanding to ten, with at least one Mental Health First Aider in every office.”

Providing a listening ear

Joanna explains that the role involves simple acts such as asking people how they are and, if you know someone is struggling, regularly checking in to see if they need extra support through the company’s Employee Assistance programme or other formal support schemes.

“We can’t undertake the role of counsellors, but we can support people to access help and actively look for signs that someone may be struggling,” Joanna says. “There are many reasons why someone may need help – bereavement, cancer, sickness absence, challenges associated with caring responsibilities can all impact our mental health.

Joanna adds: “We also understand that some employees may not feel comfortable confiding in their managers. So, as Mental Health First Aiders, we can be a listening ear and can signpost support to those in need.”

Supporting health and wellbeing at Scitech

The initiative is part of the wider Health and Wellbeing programme which is run by an employee committee. It has an annual programme of events ranging from webinars, staff talks, and sharing practical advice to improve the overall health and wellbeing of all employees to improve their mental health. “Our staff talks have been particularly powerful,” says Joanna. “They are a good way of showing that it is ok to talk about suffering from depression or anxiety. It helps to open discussions and create an environment where people feel able to ask for help.”

Scitech’s Mental Health First Aiders and Wellbeing Programme are designed to cultivate a workplace where every team member can thrive, both personally and professionally. “By prioritizing mental health, providing support, and fostering open dialogue, we are not only building a happy and healthy team but also creating a culture of care and compassion,” says Joanna. “Together, we are shaping an environment where everyone feels valued, supported, and empowered to reach their fullest potential!”

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