Helping others when we need help too

How do we support others
in lockdown when our own resources are stretched?

The topic for this MHFA Networking group was how in lockdown we are being approached to support people, which we want to do, but are finding it increasingly difficult as our own resources become stretched. 


During this MHFA Networking group we considered how we were feeling, what we know about wider challenges to mental health, and what ideas and actions we could take after the session.

    How are we feeling?

    My share was of a sense of underlying weariness each day, time is flashing by on one hand but dragging in other ways, and that I miss proper human connection.  What would give me a boost more than anything would be being able to give my daughter, who I can’t see during lockdown, a hug. There were shared experiences and feelings:

    • Daily challenges with technology, including the stress of unreliable connections and the need to be learning more all the time, just to operate in the new work environment
    • Having to adapt to constant change at work.  Learning to communicate in new ways, being on our own at home, and a dislike of seeing ourself on camera in endless video meetings.
    • From a MHFA perspective trying to juggle work with supporting others.  From a wider perspective balancing work with other demands e.g. home schooling.
    • Guilt around knowing what should be done for personal wellbeing and actually putting ourselves first.
    • Worry about coping with a return to the workplace, including tolerance of other people around after being on our own for so long.
    • Hating the feeling of having to ‘avoid’ people when out and about.
    • Feeling guilty because the conditions experienced in lockdown were not as hard as for others.

          What do we know about mental health in the pandemic?

          There are endless stats (various sources quoted below) relating to the impact on mental health. However, remember every statistic is the story of a person.

          • The mental health impact is likely to last longer than the economic impact.
          • Pre-pandemic 80% of employees surveyed put their stress levels at work at 7/10 or higher.
          • Substance abuse deaths have increased by a third.
          • In November 2020, 20% of adults said they were experiencing anxiety and/or depression. This has been consistent throughout the pandemic and double pre-pandemic rates.

                How can we look after mental health?

                We reminded ourselves of the definition of wellbeing as a balance between challenges and resources – physical, psychological and social (Dodge, 2012). The pandemic has increased the challenges we face and created an environment when it is harder to build our resources to create balance. 

                At a simple level, we need to make self-care and wellbeing a priority. We can remind ourselves of the Five Ways to Wellbeing (New Economics Foundation, 2008) of connecting, giving, being active, taking notice and learning. 

                        What ideas were shared?

                        We considered this model as a helpful way of structing conversations to help people develop effective coping strategies. This would build resources to deal with the challenges faced.

                        • Getting outside in daylight every day. This will get easier as the days lengthen.  Block time in the diary for a walk at lunchtime.  The exact time can be flexible but make it a non-negotiable part of your day.  My experience is that the less I feel like going out for a walk, the greater the benefit.
                        • Remember the basics – good sleep habits, exercise and a healthy diet.
                        • Don’t watch the news! At least only watch as much as you need to keep generally up to date.
                        • Be realistic about what you can do for your wellbeing and will fit in with your life.
                        • Investigate guilt around doing things for yourself, often a reason people don’t make it a priority. Start small, doing a little something just for you and notice the benefits.
                              From a MHFA Perspective
                              • Have a sounding board / buddy, whether to share ideas or a confidential debrief after a difficult conversation.
                              • Role model healthy work habits, for example taking breaks, switching off outside working hours.
                              • Give ideas and prompts to others in the workplace. Don’t assume people know what they can do to help their wellbeing.
                              • Don’t forget those that are furloughed, they need support too.
                              • Remember and practice the basics of MHFA – empathetic, non-judgemental listing, then signposting to other help and resources.

                                    All attendees were tasked with identifying three actions they would take:

                                    • One thing for me
                                    • One thing for someone I am supporting
                                    • One thing I can suggest / introduce at work

                                          What three actions will you take?

                                              Contact us for details

                                              If you would like to learn more about how to hold these conversations and raising awareness of mental health; about self-care; or training to become a Mental Health First Aider, please get in touch.


                                              1. Caroline Susan Charles

                                                Thank you, this blog was very helpful and helped me to reflect on the session and also positive actions to take moving forward.

                                                These sessions have been a lifesaver for me!

                                                I face the challenge, after Easter, of dealing with many parents at the school who will be looking to me to support their children but in actual fact are asking for support for themselves. I will be in tomorrow’s session and I wish to ask you in advance, what can I do so that I don’t get too overwhelmed? and any tips for potentially dealing with several parents presenting mental health issues.

                                                I look forward to seeing you tomorrow and all the other networkees.

                                                Many thanks


                                                • Marion Hewitt


                                                  Really glad you are finding the sessions helpful. I think you question aligns with what we have been talking about and will also discuss tomorrow ie the importance of looking after and building our own resources to be able to support others. I hope that you will pick up further ideas at the Networking session.

                                                  My other observation which we have also discussed is around boundaries and recognising we can’t support everyone. Much as we might want to help we can’t always. Maybe in the scenario you mention you could look at wider resources, information and options you might share rather than feeling a need to offer direct support.

                                                  Take care



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