Throughout October, businesses, communities, and individuals across Australia have been getting involved with National Mental Health Month, helping to raise awareness and promote better mental health for all.
It’s a cause that’s close to the hearts of many Airteamers, particularly those who have witnessed the debilitating and devastating effects of mental illness on friends, family, business connections, and acquaintances.
Following through on their commitment to make Airteam one of the most supportive and empathetic software companies in Australia, this October, the team set aside time to undergo Mental Health First Aid training, equipping people across the studio with skills essential to identifying and supporting people experiencing mental health issues.
Far more than a series of vague pledges and unmeasurable goals, everyone from the company’s founders and Executive Directors to Airteam’s developer, delivery and UX experts, took part in a skills-based, early-intervention training program designed to equip each of them with the knowledge and confidence to recognise, connect and respond to someone experiencing a mental health problem or mental health crisis.
It was something everyone in the team was extremely grateful for. Here they reflect on why.
Patrick Goffin, Executive Director
I guess one of the most important things I took away was around the language, tone, and empathy that you need to apply. Being brought up in England, you're very much taught to take the British stiff upper lip approach, and in the past there's a chance I might have been guilty of thinking things like come on, toughen up and crack on, you’ll get through it, or something like that. And that's absolutely not the right way to approach it. You've got to apply much more empathy and listening.
Something I personally found quite difficult was going through the sections about suicide. I had a couple of friends in the UK that both took their own lives through mental health issues, which none of us knew at the time. So, it was quite tough going through that.
Rich Atkinson, Executive Director
I've known people that have either suicided or attempted suicide. I think if you just took one thing away from this training it would be that if you can, it's okay to ask someone, “are you having suicidal thoughts?” Because there's no negative to doing that. It's not going to encourage them to have those thoughts if they weren't having them before. That's just nonsense.
Laura Zucchetti, Head of Crew & Culture
I would add that I think it's really important to meet people where they're at, and it's okay to ask them how they're doing, even if they're not quite at the point where they realise that there's a problem, or it's having an impact on them beyond just having a bad day.
It's really cemented in my mind that it's okay to check in multiple times with someone, because they might need a bit more time.
I also thought what was quite interesting is how disease develops, and the signs that you pick up on. When you start noticing signs, the problems have already been in motion for a while. And some of the things they say to look out for, honestly, are not that uncommon, this course helps you identify warning signs more clearly.
Saharsh Bhatia, Lead Developer
I felt like the advice on creating an action plan was really valuable as well. Because it just gave good guidelines on what sort of help we can give. Obviously, a bit of preparation is needed before you go out and help someone, but those key pointers on how you can help were really useful.
Ben Mullaley, Delivery Manager
Something I took away from the course was thinking about how you would approach a person about mental health illness or issues they might be having and coming up with a plan before you actually engage with a person. Even having some bullet points noted down about things you have noticed, how you would raise those topics, how you would be empathetic, and the importance of having some information and resources available that you could share with them on the spot if they chose to go down that path, is so useful.
Nick Simpson, Head of UX
Yeah, I'd agree with that. I think having that kind of framework, a plan that you can follow, and a point of reference to anchor you is so helpful. Actually having it pinned down somewhere you can look at and say, it makes sense to go through these steps, I’ve got a point of reference here, I know the action plan I can take to help someone.
Jason Robertson, Senior UX Designer
I think that's really important to have that structured approach, particularly in situations that are generally unstructured such as talking about mental health, where it can be confusing or frightening for the person already.
Although some of what we’ve learned could be thought of as common-sense, I wouldn't have known how to deal with navigating to some of the outcomes before, or even what outcomes we should be navigating towards.
I think, maybe common sense isn't the right terminology. Because common sense means you should just know it. I think it makes sense once you understand it, but it's not just common sense. It's something you do need to learn to actually be conscious of. And consciously think about things like how you stand, what your body movements are, or how you act. All those things and the language you use, it's quite considered.
Another good point is that nothing that we've learned over the last few days is particularly difficult, but knowing how and when to apply those skills is probably one of the most important things.
I think the other thing about having a plan which is so crucial is that you're trying to do so much at once: think about what you're saying, think about your body language, and trying to manage a situation that can be quite volatile. Having that plan in place means you can be more comfortable, have your thoughts in order, rather than trying to ad-lib. I feel that if you’re ad-libbing you’re trying to think of too many things at once.
Every organisation places so much focus on physical first aid and accidents in the workplace. When, actually I think mental health is probably as, if not more, important given the stresses and pressures everyone is often under in the workplace. I don't know what the stats are about physical workplace injuries, but I wouldn't mind betting Mental Health First Aid incidents would be right up there. It’s just surprised me that this is only recently coming to the fore, and that Mental Health First Aid training is only really just now becoming a thing, whereas people don’t think twice about implementing physical first aid training.
We are coming out of a pandemic, and the really terrible, tough times we've had for the last two years, and there are only going to be more incidents, I imagine.
For some people, the pandemic is still very real, very much out there, and still impacting and isolating people. But I think the other thing is, we've talked about having this plan, and what's helpful and what isn't helpful, but what I also took away from the training was that if I did find myself in a situation where I did need to apply Mental Health First Aid, that I would just give it my best shot, and really try and hold a conversation in a safe space for someone so that they could feel heard, and that they were safe, and that there's no judgments there. And ultimately trying to help someone because I think that could really mean the difference between them getting help early or leaving it to get worse and possibly do even more harm.
I'm also really happy that we had so many people from across the team attend. And I think having this knowledge really shared across the team can only be a really positive thing for what happens next. And I've got heaps of ideas in my head for things we can do to build on the things that we already have in place. It's really amazing that it wasn't just a couple of people that did it. And I'm really glad that we got everyone from all kinds of areas.
James Wyse, Lead Developer
I'm really glad we're doing this. A lot of businesses, they all claim to have a strong focus on mental health. Usually, that just results in one day a year on RUOK Day asking you to watch a video and then carrying on as normal. But these are real tools that we can actually use, and they can have real benefits.
Riley Pearce, Developer
Yeah, I was going to say exactly what James just said. It's very easy to just tick the legal requirement and say that you're not discriminating against someone based on their mental health, but it's a whole different ballgame to actually do it, commit resources to it, and really, really mean it. So, I'm super appreciative that we're all here and taking it seriously. It really does give people on the team, or on the team in the future, a safe space. It's not just all talk, it's actually action.
I'm really glad to have been able to do this. Going forward, if I do interact with people in these kinds of scenarios, I feel like I’m better prepared. I’ve had interactions in the past with people experiencing mental health issues and if I'd known then what I know now, I would have been able to do more to help. It's good to have the tools in place to be able to deal with those situations better in the future.
Yeah, I wish I'd had some of these skills in the past. I’ve had conversations with friends, probably across all the major things: depression, anxiety, psychosis, addiction problems. I've had friends go through all these and I've tried to help them, but I didn't really do it right. So, I'm really glad to have these tools now.
Attending the Mental Health First Aid Australia course for Airteam were: Rich Atkinson, Executive Director; Patrick Goffin, Executive Director; Laura Zucchetti, Head of Crew & Culture; Nick Simpson, Head of UX; Ben Mullaley, Delivery Manager; Saharsh Bhatia, Lead Developer; James Wyse, Lead Developer; Jason Robertson, Senior UX Designer; and Riley Pearce, Developer.