Sixty members of staff at a North East housing association have received Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training.

Sunderland-based Gentoo, which employs more than 1,200 staff has trained staff to raise awareness of mental ill-health, tackle the stigma associated with a mental health issue and support colleagues.

The two-day educational course from MHFA England, delivered for Gentoo by Washington Mind, increases knowledge in how to identify, understand and help a person who may be experiencing a mental health issue.

Through Washington Mind, Gentoo has also had access to individuals who work within mental health services, which has helped to enhance the learning experience.

The training covers some of the most common mental health problems as well as those that are commonly misunderstood.

This includes signs, symptoms and risk factors of depression, anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders and suicide; including ways to help if someone is struggling to manage what they are experiencing.

Mental Health First Aiders have been working across the business to engage colleagues, letting them know what support is available.

In addition, all managers have also undertaken a training session with Washington Mind to help them to recognise the signs if a member of their team is struggling with their mental health.

Mental Health awareness helps to promote emotional wellbeing before mental health services are needed.

Louise Bassett, Executive Director (Corporate Services) at Gentoo Group, said: “Our Mental Health First Aiders have a pivotal role to play in significantly reducing the stigma associated with mental illness.

“Our mental wellbeing is just as important as our physical wellbeing yet we choose to avoid talking about how we feel.

“We take an extremely proactive approach to mental health, through information sharing and training. With 60 staff members now trained in Mental Health First Aid we can ensure those who need it can access initial help and appropriate support.

“Our aim to ensure that all staff feel supported and safe in the workplace. Supporting each other and showing compassion to staff experiencing mental health is now just part of our culture.”

Washington Mind Training Manager Kathy McKenna said: “It’s really encouraging to work with an employer who is talking about mental health in the workplace and who are putting a lot of time into training staff to understand the effects of mental health issues upon the person.

“The training programmes that Gentoo has accessed certainly shows a level of commitment.”

A member of staff from Gentoo who received support said: “I didn’t feel worried or anxious about seeking support as I knew how seriously Gentoo take mental health.

“Having support in the workplace from both your manager and a Mental Health First Aider has made such a difference, helping me to put the right things in place to move forward.

“You can’t under estimate what a difference having someone to talk to makes.”

Coinciding with Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May) held by the Mental Health Foundation, Gentoo is encouraging staff and the wider community to talk about stress.

Research has shown that two thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes, and stress is a key factor in this.

According to mental health charity, Mind 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.

In England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week.

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