What’s your current role at the Crick?
I’m a research scientist in our genetic modification service, which is part of the Crick’s biological research facility. I started at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research in 2014 and moved to the new location at the Crick a couple of years ago. I work on creating genetically modified animals and cells, and using cryopreservation to archive the mouse lines we work with.
When did you become a mental health first aider?
I was in the very first round of people to sign up – so we were the guinea pigs. We completed all our training, and then we were able to see if people were interested in using the service and if it was a good fit for the Crick. We have trained up lots more people since then, so clearly it was worthwhile.
Why did you become a mental health aider?
Partly because I have mental health problems myself. I know how isolated they can make you feel, and how much of a difference it can make to have someone to talk to. Having mental health first aiders in a workplace makes it much easier for people to be able to access mental health support. We’re easy to contact and much more visible than an external organisation would be.
I think it’s really important for our Crick colleagues that we are also people who work in research and work at the same institute, so we know more about the context for people’s concerns. Scientific career paths can be quite different to other fields, and it means we’re on the same page from the first time we talk.
This is even more relevant when it comes to working in an animal research unit. We’re a large part of the Crick and our work can be very different to the other research groups. There are quite a few of us in the facility who are trained up as mental health first aiders now, and anyone from the animal research facility who comes to us doesn’t have to spend time explaining their work. We already understand and can focus on helping.
What’s it like working with the other mental health first aiders?
We have become a really close-knit community. We have bimonthly meetings and often invite external speakers for talks and additional training sessions. We also spend time sharing experiences and advice on how to help people who come to us with different queries. All the mental health first aiders at the Crick have different backgrounds and different roles so we’re all able to contribute something new.
What advice would you give to someone who’s considering becoming a mental health first aider?
If you’re on the fence about taking part, definitely just do it. I’ve never regretted signing up. It’s always nice to be able to do something for other people, and you do feel good about yourself when you’ve helped someone with a difficult query. The personal sense of achievement isn’t the main reason I do it, but it’s a nice bonus!
We all work at a biomedical research institute, so we’re all interested in helping people and improving human health. There’s no reason why that shouldn’t include our own staff.