As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, we’ve sat down with one of our Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA) Matt Carrie to chat through the key role the MHFAs play in our organisation.

Having been with Sigma Connected for seven years, Matt has been one of our 20 Mental Health First Aiders since 2021 and carries out the role alongside his job as a Service Delivery Manager based in Birmingham.

Q. I’d like to start by asking what it’s like being a Mental Health First Aider here at Sigma Connected and what made you want to take on the role?

Matt:

First and foremost, having suffered with my own mental health since being diagnosed with ME at the age of 18, I really wanted to give something back. Through my own struggles, which saw me reaching out for professional help when I was in my 30s, I’ve looked for so many ways to help combat my own anxiety. Although it took me a while, I found that speaking to my family and friends, looking at my diet and exercise really helped alleviate some of the worry and anguish I was feeling.

Over time I have worked out what my triggers are, the things that set my negative thought process off, and found coping mechanisms – things like taking my dog for a walk or going to the gym.

Those are just a few techniques I’ve learnt so when the opportunity came up to train it was an easy decision to make and play a role in helping others, using my own experience. It’s a fantastic initiative.

It has also given me the chance to talk more to my male friends and family who tend to struggle to open up about their own mental health. I’d love to see the stigmas around men and mental health eradicated much further.

Q. So when you are helping colleagues do you share your own mental health journey with them?

Matt:

Yes, I do, in fact, I am happy to share my story as I think it helps when I speak to those who are looking for support. Often, me opening up to them is the catalyst for them talking and seeking support.

I’d like to think that has helped. I’m not saying that I’ve fixed any issues or anything like that, but I do strongly believe it helps having someone to talk to and offload your worries, fears and concerns.

Q. How do people feel coming to you knowing you are a colleague?

Matt:

That’s a good question. I get that it can be strange for some people. Some colleagues may know me and others will not, but when colleagues first reach out for help they can request to speak to someone they don’t know within Sigma if they prefer. We ensure they know everything is confidential and no notes are taken.

We’re also conscious that some men would prefer to speak to another man and some women may prefer to speak to a woman. Everyone has a preference. If they’d rather have a male or female, they can request that. We also ask them if they want to have the conversation via a phone call, on Teams, Slack or in person. If holding the conversation virtually, we can even let them chose whether they want cameras on or off.

Q. And how exactly do they get in touch?

Matt:

We’ve got a number of different avenues. They can make contact via our Mental Health First Aider Inbox, or by phone if they prefer. Everyone at Sigma knows these details as they are distributed out to the wider business and it’s also the first thing staff on their screens when they login to their laptops.

Requests for support are not as prevalent currently as they were when we launched the initiative, which was during the height of the Covid pandemic, but I would say we now tend to be contacted around once or twice a week.

Q. What are the stages people go through to get help?

Matt:

Usually the initial contact is by email and then one of the MHFA will contact them promptly to ask how they would like to communicate – do they prefer a phone call, do it over Teams or Slack, along with agreeing a date and time that works for them.

During the first meeting we’ll set the expectations and inform them that the conversation is completely confidential. It doesn’t go any further. The only time we would feel the need to raise concern is if there’s any risk of harm.

We try make them feel as comfortable and as relaxed as possible.

Q. What kind of details are you looking for from those wanting support?

Matt:

We don’t expect people to tell us everything if they don’t want to, and some may just want to find out more about the support we can give first before opening up. Some may feel lonely and just want someone to talk to. Others may have been struggling for some time and see this as a safe space.

We tend to start by asking why they contacted us, how they are feeling, has there been any changes to their circumstances that may be causing them to feel the way they’re feeling etc. This helps us to be able to support and guide them further.

The first thing we do is thank them for sharing because like I say, there’s certain people that are really guarded and actually opening up in any in any kind of way is really difficult for them.

Things that arise can be related to family matters, an illness, sometimes it’s work related, sometimes they are just having a bad day and need to offload.  Other times there are deep personal issues they want to talk about. To help them move forward we need to understand the circumstances and get them to open up.

It’s finding the right avenue that works best for them.

Q. And what happens once the first conversation has taken place?

Matt:

If the MHFA feels that they need to have a further conversation and follow up then we will set up another meeting. It’s important we do this to see how the colleague is doing. If they do not want any further meetings then we offer to check-in with them again, this is usually every couple of weeks or once a month over a period of time.

Q. How do people get further professional support if needed?

Matt:

If I, or any of the MHFAs, feel the individual needs further support beyond us we can refer them to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). The EAP is a free service provided to all colleagues by Sigma Connected. It’s one part of the overall welfare provisions that the company makes.

The EAP service remains completely confidential.

Q. Do you feel it’s making a difference?

Matt:

Absolutely. Before joining Sigma Connected I worked in retail where there wasn’t anything like this. I didn’t have anybody to speak to so when I was struggling, I would just put up with it, which went on for many years until I made the decision to speak to my GP. It took me a long time to reach out because I wasn’t in the right mindset and felt embarrassed, which you never should never feel as it is takes courage to ask for help.

It’s great that people know they have a safe space to talk within Sigma. They can come to me direct or email the Inbox and say have you got five minutes for a quick phone call .

The main thing is for them to know that someone is listening and is there to help.

Q. And how do you deal with things when you have difficult conversations?

Matt:

If it were something quite serious then we are trained with the tools to be able to support. However, there is also support for all the MHFAs should we need it and can reach out to others who are also equipped with the tools.

All the MHFAs meet up on a regular basis, although we never talk about any conversations. We just check-in with one another and advise or support if needed.

We can also refer back to the training organisation should we have any questions or concerns. For example, if there was a particularly difficult conversation, we would be able to reach out to them. This would be an opportunity to discuss how we’re feeling.

Q. And finally, where do you go from here? What’s next?

Matt:

I definitely want to continue as a MHFA. I would personally be happy to do this forever. It’s a role I enjoy and I know I am making a difference even if it’s only a small one.

I believe the company is looking to train more MHFAs which I would recommend to anyone. It gives a really good opportunity to understand mental health more, understand how to manage your own wellbeing and better yourself in that way. But most of all being able to support other people.

You can find more out about Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK by visiting www.mentalhealth.org.uk.