MHFA and Change

We need to support people so they can navigate the ongoing changes of Covid-19.

At the recent MHFA Networking and Support Group we discussed people’s responses to change. Demonstrating a key challenge in supporting people with change – we all view them differently.


At the recent MHFA Networking and Support Group I asked people to think of emotions they experienced in relation to change. It was a long list, from very positive words including exciting, opportunity, choice; through to more negative emotions such as fear, overwhelm, and nerve wracking. This demonstrates one of the challenges in supporting people through change. We all view it differently.

This article summarises the shared thoughts and contributions throughout the event.

• Understanding the cycle of emotions people are experiencing.
• Recognising the symptoms and behaviours demonstrated when people are finding change difficult.
• Using our MHFA skills to provide non-judgmental listening and support.

Experiencing change

There is always change and this year has seen more, at a faster pace, and with a wider impact than we usually expect to manage. The change curve developed from the work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross on grief is highly relevant in understanding the cycle of emotions people are experiencing. We are all on the curve multiple times experiencing a wide range of often conflicting emotions.

    If we are involved in implementing change, recognising this is helpful in planning and supporting those experiencing them. Good ideas and great projects fail because they are done ‘to’ people, rather then ‘with’ them. If we understand the emotions driving behaviours it provides valuable information to position our messaging appropriately.

      Impact on our wellbeing

      Discussion generated a list of factors linked to change that impacted wellbeing.

      • Uncertainty about what restrictions will be in place where, and when, meant people felt unable to plan anything.  An outcome of this is a lack of things to look forward to eg holidays.

      • Lack of control in many areas of our life.  No one knows with certainty how and in what time frame we will move beyond the pandemic.  The fact that this is outside of our control can create anxiety.

      • Necessary changes at work create insecurity at an individual, organisation or industry level.  Even when people understand the need for change it can’t prevent the emotional reactions linked to experiencing them.

      • Changes in financial situation linked to job uncertainty or redundancy created worry.

      • Overworking and lack of barriers between work and non-work if working from home generated issues. Commuting previously provided an opportunity to mental disconnect from work which people missed. 

      • Working at home is a change that may work for some but for others brings issues of isolation or increased pressure juggling work with other commitments.

      • Those who had been furloughed reported anxiety about returning to work including loss of skill and knowledge, and tension with those who had been working throughout.

      • Learning new technology. Changes in how we communicate can be difficult for people not confident or comfortable with IT can increase stress and anxiety.

      • What is considered as socially acceptable behaviour in relation to social distancing varies.  Different ideas of risk can create tension and lead to anxiety.

      • People reported a reduced level of tolerance, again rooted in anxiety, which manifested in behaviours that could create tension and conflict which are detrimental to our sense of wellbeing.

      Changes in behaviour

      The emotions people are experiencing will manifest in their behaviour. If we go back to the change curve, behaviour that is considered ‘difficult’ is frequently driven by anxiety, fear, lack of control or choice. Many areas of our life where we had autonomy now require a level of compliance we have not experienced before, for example limits on who and how many people we can meet. When we are endeavouring to support others, we need to understand that people are not their behaviours. Their behaviours manifest how they are feeling.

      Supporting others

      From a Mental Health First Aid perspective, how we act is unchanged. We provide non-judgemental listening, support and information. We can’t stop changes happening. We can help people understand their feelings, normalise their reactions and identify coping strategies. In this way they can navigate their best way through these very uncertain times.

      Contact us for details

      Protea Solutions provides a range of training options to support employee mental health including Mental Health First Aid courses accredited by MHFA England. These are offered as both public open courses and run within organisations. Contact us to find out how we can help you support your employees or contact us if you would like to find out more information and join our next MHFA Networking and Support Group.


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