On Friday, the 11 May 2018, six members of staff from the Sheffield office undertook Mental Health Awareness training. 

Our trainer, Polly Singer from Crossgate Counselling Sheffield, is an accredited counsellor with significant experience in her field, and, interestingly, a master’s degree in archaeology. This gave her a deeper understanding of some of the nuances of our jobs, and made for the most informative, and helpful training session some of us have ever been to.

The session was professionally but lightly structured and began with finding out what we all wanted to get from the day. As the group was drawn from several different positions within the company, we found we all had slightly different needs. Polly took them all on board and made sure that we all went away with answers.   

One particular exercise was to match official diagnoses (depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder (BPD)), with people’s direct experience of these issues. It was incredibly difficult to say that an individual’s unique symptoms fit one particular diagnosis. The exercise served to highlight the range of emotions and symptoms people experience, and that ‘one size fits all’ really doesn’t apply to mental health.

Understanding your ‘baseline’ was another extremely useful skill Polly spoke about: what it is that people can expect to see in you on an average day? For example, if I’m singing to myself as I work, and if I swim regularly, I’m probably doing alright mentally. Once you’ve established the baseline, it is easier to see small changes in yourself and in others. In archaeology, we’re often on away projects and we live and work with our colleagues 24 hours a day. This can heighten friendships and, equally, tensions. Understanding each other’s mental health concerns and recognising each other’s baselines is vital in helping to maintain a safe place of work for ourselves and for our colleagues.   

The information regarding signposting, and a better knowledge of services available both in Sheffield and nationally was invaluable. I find myself increasingly in a position where people come to me with problems and for advice and I now feel more confident in my responses. We already have an excellent Employee Assistance Programme, but there is much more out there. From the useful free apps, which help you with 10 minutes of meditation or grounding activities, to the larger, more well-known mental health charities which can be texted rather than phoned (if you don’t feel like talking to people). 

Hopefully the training we received last week will be the beginning of much more open conversation about mental health between all of us. This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, so why not check in with your colleague over that cup of tea and a biscuit, and see how they’re really doing. 

By Emily Eastwood

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