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...And what you can do about it. 
How often do you talk about mental health? 
 
It was already a hot topic, but the Covid-19 pandemic has only increased the conversation around mental health. 
 
We now understand a lot more about what goes on in our brains than we did 20 years ago and we have a greater awareness of what can trigger mental illness. 
 
There’s growing concern that the effects of the pandemic have led to an increase in mental health problems. Not only that but for some, there may be long-term consequences
 
The challenge is heightened due to the restrictions on human contact and virtual forms of communication. 
 
Trainers, managers and teachers are all having video calls with people who may be suffering from poor mental health but have limited ways of accessing support. 
 
Zoom, Teams and the like are not great for maintaining solid relationships. 
 
Whether you’re conducting fitness sessions, meetings or classes, in person or over the internet, it’s important to know how to spot signs of mental ill health and how you can act on it. 
 
We’ve put together some helpful information. 
 
So, What’s This Mental Health Thing? 
 
It may be that you keep hearing about mental health but you’re not actually sure what it is. 
 
For example, someone displaying negative emotions or being sad doesn’t necessarily mean that they are suffering from mental illness. 
 
That said, mental health varies from person to person and we could be talking about a range of different illnesses each with their own spectrum of severity. 
 
According to Mental Health America there are over 200 recorded forms of mental illness
 
It’s more than just your mood. It’s when something in your brain is not working properly, therefore changing the way you think or feel. 
 
Probably the most common forms of mental illness are depression or anxiety and these have certainly been compounded by the pandemic. 
 
It’s these milder but no less serious forms of illness that are more likely to affect the people in your groups. 
 
As we’ll mention later on though, it’s not necessarily your responsibility to offer diagnosis. Your role is to support the person and point them in the direction of professional help if needed. 
 
Common Signs Of Poor Mental Health 
 
There are any number of signs that could suggest someone is suffering from mental illness. 
 
These are going to be more difficult to spot on a video call, but it’s still good to know what to look out for, if you’re seeing someone regularly. 
 
This might be a student, an employee or a course member. 
 
Most of the signs we’ve listed below can be summarised as a change in behaviour. This may not necessarily be what you deem to be out of the ordinary but what is different for that particular person. 
 
For example, being quiet and reserved may be completely normal for some people and therefore wouldn’t be an indication that anything was wrong. If the person is normally outgoing however, then it might be. 
 
Here’s some things to check for: 
 
Sleeping More or Less. 
 
Tearfulness. 
 
Talking less. 
 
Talking more or talking erratically, without composure. 
 
Mood swings/Extreme highs or lows. 
 
Excessive worrying or concern. 
 
Changes in eating habits. 
 
Delusions or strange thoughts. 
 
Unexplained physical ailments or injuries. 
 
Defiance of authority. 
 
Changes in performance. 
 
Poor grades despite ability or effort. 
 
Struggling to make decisions. 
 
Aloofness. 
 
As we mentioned above there could be many more signs but these are common ones. 
 
It may be difficult to notice these over a video call or assess whether it’s anything to be concerned about but small signs can often be an indication that you need to press in and ask how the person is feeling. At a convenient time of course. 
 
Remember, it’s not your role to diagnose, just to support. 
 
That brings us to what you can do in your role. 
 
What You Can Do 
 
Whether you’re a teacher, a personal trainer or a manager, there are a number of things you can do to make life better for the people in your groups and help support people with mental illness. 
 
Know where to point people 
 
It’s important to recognise your own limitations. Even if you have taken a relevant mental health awareness course (more on that below), there is still only so much you can do. 
 
The best thing you can do, if someone is clearly suffering or has come to you for help, is to point them in the right direction. 
 
This might be visiting their GP, contacting their Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) or local Crisis Team or Charity organisations such as Mind, Samaritans or Rethink Mental Illness. 
 
Foster an environment that encourages openness 
 
It may seem obvious but getting people to talk freely and openly is the best way of finding out how someone’s doing. 
 
But even in a group that is used to spending time together, there will be some that feel uncomfortable opening up. 
 
Creating an environment in which people are comfortable isn’t easy but there are ways you can improve it. Start by being approachable as the leader of the group. 
 
Having open discussion about mental health issues and making it clear that there is no judgement, is also a great way of fostering that environment. 
 
Delegate responsibility and build teams 
 
These are all part of building a healthy company or class but they’re worth repeating. 
 
Even if you don’t have the ability or capacity to help people, giving someone else in your organisation the responsibility to check up on people and build healthy relationships will be more effective. 
 
Team building exercises and regular check-ins or discussions around people’s mental health, will be especially valuable during a time where human contact is limited. 
 
Make information available and be informed 
 
It’s obviously difficult to help other people if you aren’t informed yourself but once you are, pointing other people to where that information can be found will go a long way. 
 
At least this way they can access the help they need in their own time, without feeling pressured to open up. 
 
It might be a good idea, if you have a shared workspace or chat forum such as Slack, to have a section dedicated to mental health support and links to help and guidance. 
 
Mental Health Awareness Courses Are A Great Way Of Helping Your People 
 
If you want to be better equipped to help and support your people, groups or teams, there’s nothing better than taking a mental health awareness course. 
 
It’s not going to make you a therapist, but you’ll be much more aware of the signs and come away feeling more confident dealing with this issue. 
 
Any company or school that has an MHA accredited member of staff is automatically going to be a better place to work or learn. 
 
Fortunately, you don’t have to look far. 
 
If you want an experienced, trustworthy provider, Sportsability offer an Active IQ Level 2 Mental Health Awareness award. 
 
If you want to learn more about how it can benefit you and the place you work for, head here
 
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