Hannah Pettitt: Mental health first aid support at Transport for London

Over the past few years, I have become interested and passionate about mental health and wellbeing, which has grown from personal experience. In 2015, I became a mental health first aider with my training funded by my employer, Transport for London. It considers the health and wellbeing of its employees to be a priority and, as well as having an occupational health team, it also has a staff network group that specifically focuses on disability and mental health.

Being one of the 28 mental health first aiders at Transport for London has allowed me to develop skills in supporting people through difficult times by listening and guiding them to appropriate resources. I believe that if we are happy at work then our productivity increases, our relationships with our colleagues are positive and we perform better. Having an employer that is supportive and aware of mental health and wellbeing issues is a benefit to everyone.

In my role as a mental health first aider, I was interested in and determined to support my colleagues through change. Last November, when a colleague started a wellbeing group, I jumped at the chance to be involved. This is the story of what we have done to support our colleagues through a time of change and transformation in the Asset Management Directorate (AMD) at Transport for London.

A small group of us initially met to discuss how to introduce wellbeing to AMD and what activities we could organise. From this meeting, we developed our terms of reference and came up with four core objectives: raise awareness of staff wellbeing and mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety and depression; provide taster sessions to wellbeing activities; work with the AMD transformation team to ensure that people are supported through change transition; and act as a central contact for AMD staff on wellbeing issues.

We initially kick-started the work of the group by using our pre-existing contacts. We wanted to provide resources in the areas of mental health, wellbeing and building resilience for change to assist our colleagues.

The group has provided a number of activities and support over the past six months. These include: a science of stress workshop, mindfulness and yoga sessions, promoting the Time to Change campaign, Mental Health First Aid awareness presentations, providing a wellbeing information stand containing relevant reading material and increasing the awareness of wellbeing across AMD.

The mindfulness and yoga sessions were provided by specialists, who volunteered their time for free for these initial sessions, giving staff the chance to try them out. The yoga and breathing sessions were so popular that we have now worked with specialists to offer a six-week yoga therapy vitality programme.

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I have promoted and raised awareness of mental health first aid to my colleagues by presenting to the senior managers in AMD and following that up with visits to their team meetings. So far, this has been really successful with a lot of positive feedback. It has definitely encouraged people to get thinking and talking about mental health issues and is helping them, alongside the work of the staff network group, to become aware of their own mental health and that of their colleagues.

Hannah Pettitt is asset data manager at Transport for London