Head first

Accredited mental health first aid responders share their personal thoughts after completing a two-day training course last November

A two-day mental health first aid training course in partnership with The LightHouse Arabia – the only healthcare providers authorised for MHFA training in the UAE – was coordinated by GEMS Education and offered to staff as a compulsory programme last November. Hosted at GEMS First Point School in The Villa, Chief People Officer at GEMS, Rupert Brown coordinated the venture with psychologists Christine Kritzas and Lara Omran of The LightHouse Arabia, who facilitated the training.

“Transforming the world of education is not always easy and a lot of the strain is quietly absorbed by us and those around us,” Rupert Brown said. “A strong team is one that is able to look after each other and has the skills and trust to be able to talk about important issues like stress and mental health. As well as imparting knowledge we are also building a caring culture where people feel comfortable talking about personal mental health issues before they become medical problems.”

Here’s what attendees had to say about the impact of the course on them personally:

Esther-Supriya Iyer, People and Organisation Business Partner:
“Having been through depression, my biggest takeaway is that you are never alone and this is not the end of the road. It is absolutely possible to be successful in every role we play in life even after this dark phase. Do not hide behind it. Expose it, get help and move on to healing and beyond. From a HR perspective, I now look at every single ‘dropping performance’ case differently from before. Previously, one would naturally lean towards forming an opinion on the lack of talent or skill sets required to perform well in such situations. But now as a mental health first aid responder, I always consider the status of the employee’s mental wellness while also taking into account all other aspects. This training was an eye opener personally and professionally. I strongly advocate that we need to raise awareness among GEMS leaders and prepare many more of us to be mental health first aid responders.

Victoria Lumby, Vice President – Enrolments:
“There is a continuing lack of awareness and stigma around mental health which keeps people suffering in silence; as mental health first aiders we can help. Now being trained to identify signs and symptoms of mental health, we can play an important role with early intervention and prevent problems becoming more serious. The longer people delay getting help and support, the more difficult their recovery can be; as work colleagues and team leaders we need to be aware. Mental health is everyone’s business, and we must recognise that the success of any department is dependent on the health and well-being of the team.”

Kristine Obien, Manager – Enrolments & Marketing:
“I now have a greater understanding of the importance of mental health and I can play a significant part in ending stigma and be a part of the positive change in attitude towards mental health.”

Sara Hedger, Head of Child Safeguarding and Child Protection:
“Mental health is such an important topic that touches so many people. It’s great to have a toolkit that helps you to spot signs of mental health issues and then gives you confidence to provide effective support. This is a great global initiative and I’m really happy to work for a company that is working hard to de-stigmatise and prioritise mental health for employees and students.”

Rupert Brown, Chief People Officer:
“My takeaway is that the greatest gift you can give anyone in need is your time. Also that it’s so important to look out for each other and offer safe moments to really listen. And, a bit like first aid CPR, your involvement can really only help, so don’t be scared to approach someone who isn’t looking like themselves.”

Glenn Stroud, QHSE Manager:
“I learned about the importance of having a mental health first aid action plan in place. This is ALGEE:
A – Approach, assess, and assist with any crisis
L – Listen non-judgmentally
G – Give support and information
E – Encourage appropriate professional help
E – Encourage other support
Other points were the importance of encouraging people to speak and letting them know support is there while also respecting their decision if they refuse to talk (unless it is a crisis situation where direct intervention is critical). Having a conversation in a quiet, confidential space is important as well as checking in with yourself to make sure you are in the right frame of mind to approach them.”

Phillip Taylor, Head of Compensation and Benefits:
“It is ok not to be ok and, when you are not ok, you do not need to be alone…ok? So when someone asks you ‘are you ok?’ you can answer ‘I am fine’, ‘I am ok I guess’ but you can also answer ‘no’. That can make all the difference to feeling ok again.”

Paul Slater, Vice President – Health, Safety And Environment:
“The one thing I learned and really appreciated was everyone’s willingness and openness to discuss some pretty challenging topics. I think this shows that we are trying to break down the stigma behind mental health and particularly the importance of sharing your concerns and worries with people, so that we can support and help people through difficult times.”

Claire Hassard, People and Organisation Business Partner:
“This course really emphasised the importance of being non-judgmental, being a good listener and giving someone your time. As a mental health first aider you are not there to solve the problem, you are simply listening, showing empathy and spending quality time with a person who may be going through a challenging time in their life. I also learned the importance of self-care. We should all make sure we take time for ourselves to focus on our own well-being and mental health.”

Mandeep Bhola, Manager – Internal Audit:
“I was really touched by these two learnings: 1. Always stand with a curious mindset and NOT with a judgmental mindset; 2. Everyone carries something you can’t see. Be kind.”

Accredited mental health first aiders

  1. Rupert Brown
  2. Simon Andrews
  3. Kristine Obien
  4. Jitender Chhajer
  5. Dabeer Rasul
  6. Victoria Lumby
  7. Kimberley Reid
  8. Paul Slater
  9. Phillip Taylor
  10. Jennifer Asimus
  11. Esther-Supriya Iyer
  12. Shalini Wijeratna
  13. Claire Hassard
  14. Sara Hedger
  15. Emily Ellington
  16. Mandeep Bhola
  17. Zakaria Alhabil
  18. Glenn Stroud (Infracare)
  19. Jundelyn Queno (Hamilton Aquatics)
  20. Prarthana K (STS)