Supporting good mental health at the LMS

 17 January 2022   Features

The MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences (LMS) actively trains Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs) across all departments, aiming to ensure every person at the institute has someone to talk to if they are struggling with their mental health.  

A report by The Royal Society shows more than 40% of university postgraduate students report symptoms of depression, emotion or stress-related problems, or high level of stress. In fact, researchers are found to have the highest levels of mental health disorders among occupational groups.

In response to this, the LMS adopted a certified Mental Health First Aid training course originally offered to staff at Imperial College London. Since 2018, 30 people have trained to become LMS MHFAs and this number continues to increase year-on-year.

The certified course teaches people how to identify, understand and help someone who may be experiencing a mental health issue. Teaching was initially held in person, however, COVID-19 social restrictions meant MHFA England launched a new online version, which the LMS utilised.

Ivan Andrew, lab manager in the LMS Genomics Core Lab reflects on reasons for becoming a MHFA at the institute and what the role has been like so far:

In 2018, I nearly lost a really close friend of mine through the struggles of mental illness. It made me reflect about what more I could have done to help her from getting to that point, and also, how many more of my friends were suffering silently like this?

I wanted to equip myself with the skills to be able to understand and help people, so they have somewhere to turn, and someone to talk to.

The MHFA two-day course opened my eyes to the complexity, stereotypes, and myths that surround mental illness, and provided me with tools and resources to direct people to the right support and help.

As Mental Health First Aiders we’re not trained to diagnose or become therapists. We’re there to listen, non-judgmentally, and let people know what help is there if they want it.

Having an open and safe environment for people to talk can make a real difference.

I am yet to be approached in my role as a workplace Mental Health First Aider, and don’t get me wrong, it’s something that I find extremely daunting, but the way I look at it is that if someone is brave enough to reach out and ask for help, then I should at least have the confidence to step in, reassure, and support them the best I can.

In recent years the perception of what is needed to enable and protect good mental health has shifted. Many people now acknowledge mental health as being just as important as physical health, and we are all encouraged to seek help and support whenever we need it.

The COVID pandemic has bought this into even sharper focus with many of us feeling cut-off and isolated from each other, and overwhelmed or anxious about what we’re hearing in the news.

At the LMS we are committed to ensuring our staff and students get the support they need – no one should be left to suffer in silence. We encourage everyone to seek support in whatever way they are most comfortable – may this be from their supervisors or mentors, the MHFAs, the student and postdoc committees, the postgraduate training advisory group, HR or from the employee and student assistance programmes of UKRI and Imperial College.

If you are a staff member of the LMS or a student studying at the institute, you can find an up-to-date list of all our MHFAs here on the intranet. And if you have any further suggestions on what we can do, please speak to HR.

Further information on where to access mental health support for Imperial College staff can be found here, or Imperial College students can be found here.

If you are not an LMS or Imperial staff member, or student, you can find support from the Smartians.