After losing someone close to him to suicide and experiencing a period of mental ill health, Darren Cheadle, Project Designer at UK Power Networks attended a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England course. Ten years later, Darren is now a MHFA England Instructor Member and has helped build a workplace programme that has seen over 200 Mental Health First Aiders trained. Hear from Darren in his own words.
I first became a MHFAider over 10 years ago. I was struggling with some things in my personal life and had been trying to support someone close to me going through difficult times. I was doing the best I could but honestly, it wasn't really helping. After years and years of struggling, they gave up the fight and ended their own life, and my world fell apart.
I blamed myself for not doing more and I had underestimated the effect it was having on me too. Putting these together, I began to experience mental ill health and came close to suicide myself.
I had been in touch with my local branch of Mind and had some support from them, but they also recommended a MHFA England course. Having had first-hand experiences, I found moments of the course were difficult for me. So much of it was relatable, but I began to make sense of a lot of things in my life, and I realised there had definitely been issues I hadn’t addressed. The course was like an awakening for me and I learned that just a little bit of knowledge can be a powerful tool!
Too late maybe to help the one person that mattered most to me, but not too late to help other people. I'm looking out for others more now – I make sure I take time to ask someone how they really are and mean it, and listen to understand and see if, or how, I can help. I've started conversations with strangers as well as people I already know. I know what it's like to struggle and no one should have to struggle alone.
A few years later, appreciating the value of my new knowledge, I trained as an Instructor Member and began to try and get MHFA England training introduced at UK Power Networks. It turns out there was a lot of other like-minded people there too. While I am continuing with my main role as a Project Designer, I have been delivering half-day and two-day MHFA England courses as an in-house trainer. The Employee Engagement Survey last year highlighted the desire by employees for greater awareness and support for mental health and this spurred our Employee Engagement team into putting a programme together for 2020 to raise awareness, and a commitment was made to train 100 MHFAiders by the end of the year. To increase the impact of the programme, some courses were also arranged with external trainers and we are now on track to have more than 250 MHFAiders by the end of the year as well.
I'm so pleased we now have a training programme in place at UK Power Networks. We are also building a community of first aiders where we can share ideas, knowledge and experience to help each other and our colleagues. We use a private group on Yammer for instructors only, but also a public group for all aspects of wellbeing for healthy minds and bodies. With around 6,200 employees in what is still a predominantly male work force, we’re breaking down the stigma surrounding mental ill health. There have been some very open discussions about mental health at all levels from the CEO to the customer-facing field teams.
I applaud everyone who has and is making this happen and has put themselves forward to be there to help other people. These are skills for life - literally!
About Energy Networks Association
We’re the industry body for the energy networks. Our members own and operate the wires and pipes which carry electricity and gas into your community, supporting our economy. The wires and pipes are the arteries of our economy, delivering energy to over 30 million homes and businesses across the UK and Ireland. To do this safely and reliably, the businesses which run the networks employ 45,000 people and have spent and invested over £60 billion in the last eight years.
ENA press office
+44 (0)7792 220 974