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Why Mental Health First Aiders Are Essential in the Workplace

The importance of mental health resources

Why Mental Health First Aiders Are Essential in the Workplace

The importance of mental health resources

Published 06-05-23

Submitted by NRG Energy

Two people having a discussion.

Originally published on NRG Energy Insights

By NRG Editorial Voices

Raising awareness and removing stigma

Mental health is a crucial aspect of overall well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. Additionally, all areas of our lives are impacted by mental health including our relationships, work, and physical health. Despite its importance, mental health is often misunderstood and viewed as taboo, leading many individuals to suffer in silence or avoid getting help. By highlighting available resources, we hope to raise awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health.

First aid that’s more than a band-aid

One of the main goals of the Mental Health First Aid at Work program from the National Council for Mental Wellbeing is to remove barriers for those seeking help. This is accomplished by increasing awareness and understanding of mental illnesses. Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs) learn to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental health and substance use challenges. The goal of the program is to equip aiders with an action plan and other essential tools so that more people can get the support they need.

The courses include details on risk factors, warning signs, information on a variety of mental illnesses, a five-step action plan, and where to turn for help. Each course is formatted with hands-on activities and real-life applications. While MHFAs are ready to support individuals that may be experiencing mental health or substance abuse challenges, they do not diagnose conditions or provide medical treatments.

Mental Health First Aiders at NRG

Safety and well-being are a part of our Power Values; this not only includes physical well-being but also psychological well-being. The MHFA program is essential to putting that into action. It nurtures a positive environment and creates a safe space to talk. MHFAs can encourage colleagues with their training and connect them with appropriate employee or community resources. The program is also beneficial for early intervention or recognizing warning signs in someone who might be struggling.

Currently, over 100 NRG teammates are certified MHFAs and ready to help any colleague that needs it. We interviewed three of NRG’s MHFAs to learn more about why they chose to get certified and how the program has positively affected them.

Kimberly Carpenter, Senior Director of NRG Business Marketing and Customer Experience, joined the program during the COVID-19 pandemic after seeing people experiencing a lot of mental stress. “For me, it was the perfect opportunity to learn and be available to my team and others within the company. I wanted to be a resource because I knew that people were struggling during that time,” she says.

Since joining the MHFA program, Carpenter has been able to use her training at work. When a situation arises, she observes the warning signs a coworker presents and takes action. To her, “knowing the signs to look for and being in tune with your team members to notice nuances and differences” are important skills for everyone to have when identifying that someone needs help.

For Lucas Spangler, Senior Manager of Commercialization, the MHFA program gave him the skills and language to have important conversations about mental health. He thinks MHFAs and EMTs share similarities saying, “EMTs show up at a site, stabilize the person, and get them to a hospital. The Mental Health First Aider is doing the same thing for mental health. They understand and acknowledge that something is going on, then recommend the person to professional resources.”

Approaching the conversation from a non-judgmental way and sharing similar personal experiences are a few ways Spangler connects with a coworker that’s facing mental health challenges. He asks questions like “Is it alright if I follow up with you in a few days?” or “Would you like me to do a bit of research for you?” to gauge the best way to support someone and find them the right care.

Rachel Gessel, a proposal writer for NRG Business, became an MHFA to learn how to react when people share that they’ve been through something difficult. She also joined to practice better care for herself saying, “in order to show up as our best physically, mentally, and emotionally at home and work, we have to take care of ourselves.”

The MHFA program really changed Gessel’s perspective on mental health. “I learned that mental health challenges are just like physical challenges because healing is possible. Prior to receiving the training, I just thought once you were mentally unwell it never went away, but now I know that is incorrect,” she says.

All three MHFAs discussed the importance of finding ways to take breaks and improve your mental well-being daily. They recommend activities such as reading, exercising, gardening, unplugging, meditating, but most importantly doing what works best for you.

Supporting your total well-being 

Much like with physical health, mental health gets better with activities. Set aside time for mindfulness every day and prioritize self-care. Checking on those around you and getting involved with mental health initiatives are other great practices.

We are here to support our employees, customers, and communities with mental health resources. Remember, you are not alone. If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, seeking help is the first step and can lend you skills that lead to long-term well-being. “Our best resources are those who see us every day. Find that person you trust enough to be able to say, ‘I’m struggling, can you help me?’,” recommends Spangler.

For more information on how you can become an MHFA, visit the official website.

If you are experiencing a suicidal crisis or emotional distress, please call or text the 24-hour Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988

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NRG Energy

NRG Energy

At NRG, we’re bringing the power of energy to people and organizations by putting customers at the center of everything we do. We generate electricity and provide energy solutions and natural gas to millions of customers through our diverse portfolio of retail brands. A Fortune 500 company, operating in the United States and Canada, NRG delivers innovative solutions while advocating for competitive energy markets and customer choice, working towards a sustainable energy future.

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