Why I became a mental health first aider

Cameron Percival explains why he decided to become one of Cuvva’s mental health first aiders.
By Team member, 04/03/2022
5 minutes read

It’s March 2020, and I’m feeling pretty naff.

Now I know this isn’t the lightest start to a blog, but ‘pretty naff’ also doesn’t quite cut it - I was severely depressed. With Covid-19 exploding onto the scene, I very quickly became an out-of-work actor turned out-of-work tour guide. No job, no savings and no choice but to uproot from London and move back home to the Midlands after five years of no longer living with my parents.

Coming from a pretty mentally-taxing career path, I’ve been acutely aware of my mental health since heading to drama school in September 2015. However, this turning point at the beginning of the pandemic truly started my journey of exploring mental health - what causes it to shift and what strategies can be used to improve it.

Over the course of the next 10 months I spoke to a number of therapists, mental health practitioners and counsellors, each offering unique techniques that can be used to improve (or at least help manage) one's mental health.

Some techniques such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (often referred to as CBT) weren’t as effective for me as others - 1-to-1 Talking Therapy being the one I responded to the best - but my interest was firmly piqued, and I knew that understanding mental health would be a lifelong interest for me from here on out.

Cut to February 2021 and a job interview for Cuvva…

In case you were wondering, the interview went pretty well - I was offered a position as part of the Customer Operations team!

Life at Cuvva was a far cry from any of the previous positions I’d worked to this point and not least of these differences was the culture. To supplement my acting work, I ended up in a lot of super flexible, often immensely corporate roles - roles where you were a very small cog in a very big wheel. It was tiring, demotivating and demoralising.

Cuvva was different. Even as early as the first telephone interview, I felt seen and valued as a person and, through my research, I saw all of the amazing perks Cuvva offer to help nurture the wellbeing of their staff. This is where I was introduced to the Sanctus Space.

Sanctus are a company of mental health coaches, offering drop-in sessions where you can talk about anything (and I mean, anything!)

Having worked jobs for huge companies that wanted very little to do with my mental health, suddenly here I was in a role where not only was talking about mental health included, but encouraged. I felt safe and I felt seen - and it felt amazing! (I’ve been seeing my mental health coach Joanne in sessions for nearly a year now!)

Around a month into my time in the team, I saw a message on the work chatter channels that Cuvva was looking to send colleagues on a St Johns Ambulance Mental Health First Aid course - this felt like the perfect opportunity. This was a place to marry up my knowledge and skills, then apply them in a way that was helpful and supportive to my fellow Cuvvarati.

I immediately sent a message to express my interest and, even though it wasn’t usual for a colleague inside their probationary period to be sent on a course like this, Cuvva saw my reasons for wanting to go and allowed me time to go on the course, taking it as a fully paid Professional Development day.

So there I was, in a fully socially-distanced classroom, learning Mental Health first aid

And it felt right! The course instructor was incredible, very kind, very open and incredibly patient. They explained that being a Mental Health First Aider isn’t being a therapist, or a councillor, or a life coach… it’s exactly what it says on the tin - first aid! Much like a company has first aiders on hand to help if someone injures themselves, a Mental Health First Aider is on-hand to spot the early signs and offer guidance and resources for those experiencing ill mental health.

I was blown away by the scope of strategies put together by St Johns Ambulance to help those who may be suffering. Armed with a really handy resource pack and a wealth of new knowledge, I really felt I’d received exactly what I’d aimed to from the course: A deeper understanding of my own mental health, and a wider understanding of how I may better support others that are struggling with their own.

If understanding mental health and supporting others, be it colleagues, members of your team, friends and beyond is of interest to you, I implore you to consider the St Johns Ambulance Mental Health First Aid course - or even better, see if it’s something your workplace can send you on internally! You can find more information about this at the bottom of the blog post!

Bringing it back and turning the tide.

Initially, coming back to work as a fully-qualified Mental Health First Aider, I found that my new accreditation was used very little, with not many people approaching myself or the other first aiders. I think there’s still a stigma attached to mental health that as a society, and as part of businesses and companies, we need to move towards breaking down.

It’s one of the things that I still feel Cuvva does well, especially when compared to the other workplaces I’ve mentioned before, in that we do have a number of perks and benefits in place to help with our Mental Health:

  • Paid mental health sick days. If you’re not well enough to work because of your mental health, it is treated the same way as if you were off with the flu - a fully paid day off as part of your sick allowance
  • A Wellbeing allowance to spend on things like gym membership, spa days, massages and medicine
  • Wellness Wednesday. A weekly post in our work channels that highlights an element of mental health and offers ways to improve and support it
  • The Sanctus mental health coaches that frequently drop in for coaching sessions

However, myself and the other mental health first aiders felt that we could be doing more.

This is when the Wellbeing Committee was formed!

While still in its early phases, the people team and Mental Health First Aiders host a regular drop-in meeting that all members of Cuvva are encouraged to attend. In these meetings we discuss ideas to improve employee wellbeing, highlight and implement ways we can safeguard mental health moving forward, and ultimately, where we can help to dismantle the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace for good. It’s okay not to be okay, and it’s important for us as colleagues and people to recognise this, and try to be there for people when things aren’t going too great.

Mental health is an ever-growing subject, and our understanding of it as a society is constantly shifting. I’m grateful to have been in a position where I’ve been able to learn and support people through this and, I hope, this blog post may inspire you to do the same!

Extra bits

Below are some links to a few of the organisations I mentioned in this blog post, just click the link to be taken to their website:

If you or someone you know is really suffering with their mental health at the moment, the Samaritans are available to listen to anything that’s on your mind.

Their number is 116 123. You can find other services who can help here

Team member