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Be aware of stress and the importance of your mental health


Carol Swift, headshot photograph
Carol Swift

 I’m a Mental Health First Aider for DWP. The Civil Service is currently running a Wellbeing Campaign for 2021, and April is Stress Awareness month, so I’ve written about my experience and shared some tips for spotting the early signs of mental ill health in colleagues, specifically when working from home.

My role as a Mental Health First Aider

I’m very proud to be a Mental Health First Aider. I belong to a strong network of people across DWP who do this role on a voluntary basis. I want to be able to support people in the best way I can. Becoming a Mental health first Aider, like my peers, has given me access to the best accredited training, so I can spot the signs and symptoms of someone experiencing mental ill health. This hopefully can get people to open up and talk to me.

The most important part of the role is giving time to just ‘listen’ to people and encourage them to speak openly about how they are feeling because more often than not, this is all that is needed. If more support is required, then we can respond quickly, judging whether further intervention and signposting is required.

I love the role so much that I’ve also recently been accepted to join the Samaritans. I see this as an extension to the role I’m currently doing and one I can’t wait to start because it’s never been more important than now.

We are living in unprecedented times and with that brings a great deal of change and uncertainty for everyone, particularly as lockdown continues. That in itself can feel overwhelming for people as we are asked to continue working from home. For many people this means juggling work and home responsibilities with childcare and home schooling, whilst remaining isolated from families, friends and work colleagues.

All our situations are unique and some days may feel more challenging than others. I personally have experienced days that have felt more difficult to manage and I’m probably not alone in that.

How to spot when somebody is struggling

All our DWP Mental Health First Aiders are a point of contact to provide immediate support for colleagues experiencing mental ill health or emotional distress. This could involve having a supportive conversation or guiding the person to seek the right help. Mental Health First Aiders can also provide an early intervention for people who may be developing a mental ill health issue. We are trained to:

  • spot the early signs and symptoms of mental ill health.
  • start a supportive conversation with a colleague who may be experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress and listen to a person non-judgementally.
  • encourage the colleague to access appropriate professional support or self-help tools if needed.
  • maintain confidentiality as appropriate, unless there is a risk to the individual or anyone else.
  • lead and promote the mental health agenda throughout the department; tackling mental health stigma and discrimination and deliver awareness and information.
  • assess the risk of self-harm or possibly suicide and escalate to the emergency services, if necessary.

We also need to safeguard our own mental wellbeing and take time out from the role, if needed, for self-care.

Spotting the signs during remote working

People are often hesitant to seek support normally and working remotely has presented a further barrier for people. It can also make it difficult to spot if your colleagues are struggling too as we can’t always see them and people don’t always like to have their cameras on. Observing any early signs can be hard but here are a few suggestions of what to look out for:

  • tiredness, not hitting deadlines, more sick absences
  • tearfulness, headaches, loss of humour
  • changes in emotions, mood, personality or voice level
  • withdrawal or lack of engagement on calls, resisting having a camera on at any time
  • harder to make contact with

Dealing with the changes that the coronavirus pandemic brought about has been challenging to say the least. We worry and stress more internally about our families, friends, our future, our work. These thoughts can lead to increased feelings of anxiety, and that uncertainty and can bring you down. It’s ok to have these experiences but regular occurrences can become debilitating and lead to depression. If we don’t look after and manage ourselves by seeking support when we need it, then these worries and stresses have the potential to grow and evolve.

Finally, it’s important to remove any stigma associated with mental wellbeing. Mental ill health doesn’t have to be a difficult conversation at all but unfortunately it still can be. We are working hard within DWP Digital to change that.

To be a part of an organisation that values your mental health and wellbeing, visit our careers site today.

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  1. Comment by Danny McLaughlin posted on

    Great blog Carol

  2. Comment by Karen Rochester posted on

    Thanks for sharing Carol