Mental health and well-being champions at The Cumberland: Aaron Battistini

Published on
23 December 2021
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"I think it's a really worthwhile thing to do and I've not regretted doing it for a minute since I volunteered."

Aaron Battistini is reflecting on his decision at the start of last year to become a mental health and wellbeing champion at The Cumberland.

He was inspired by having dealt with issues of his own and the feeling that he could offer something that could help other people.

He says: "I'd done first aid at work but I'd never done anything around mental health first aid.

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I'd had instances in my personal life when I'd helped people when they'd been in mental health crises and I thought it was something I could add to.

“I'd suffered in the past myself with some issues, particularly around anxiety. I felt that, as I was moving into better places myself, I thought of some of the skills and strategies that I'd used to cope with that, to put those to good use and share with other people where I could.”

Having made the long move from Bournemouth to Cumbria in 2017, Aaron, 31, joined The Cumberland first in customers' complaints department and now works as a deputy data protection officer.

He was one of 10 new mental health and wellbeing champions trained up in February 2020, just before the first lockdown.

That unprecedented period gave the team a chance to reflect on their role and approach, and the intention now is to recruit a further 12.

"We decided to take a look at what it was we were offering to the business as a service and to adjust that one-way approach - people only engaging with us in moments of crisis.

“So we thought about what we wanted to achieve with it. And that was to move it more toward a shift in the culture in the business around mental health - people feeling safe and comfortable to talk about it and to do more proactive work.

“To go out to business areas and to offer our support and to let people know that we were there and maybe run some sessions and give some guidance prior to crisis point rather than just at crisis point."

How does he feel the need to have so many wellbeing champions reflects on the business?

“I think it's a good thing to have as many as we do because you want a service that can cope with fluctuations in demand.

“I think it's better to have more people than the service being overwhelmed by so many issues.”

He adds: “I think it's definitely increased in the last 18 months. But it's also reflective of a wider shift. A lot of sports people, for example, talking about their mental health and the impact it has on their ability to work and perform the roles that they're in.

I think it's a more widely-held conversation around the country now. It's symptomatic not just of Covid-19 but of a more broader shift to having a focus on your mental health and wellbeing.

Day to day, as well as responding to calls and referrals from colleagues, the champions carry out internal marketing campaigns about what they offer, get positive messages out, and news items linked to relevant dates like International Mental Health Day.

Aaron says he’s never felt any lack of support in being able to fulfil the role during work time.

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“That's been a big part of the messaging across the business, that people have time to access the service, that they don't need to feel like they're chained to their desks and they can access us when they need to even if that's in work time.

“That extends to us running the service as well - they're comfortable with our use of time to actually run the service.”

So what does he think he brings to the role?

"I think I'm a good listener and a lot of having this group in the business is listening to people and giving them an opportunity to talk and get things off their chest.

“For some people that can be really beneficial and that can be all that they need. Some people want a little bit of advice and signposting.

“I'm a good communicator as well. I think I'm not easily shocked. Some of the things that people share with you can be distressing for them but can also be quite a lot to deal with as a mental health and wellbeing champion yourself.

“I think I'm quite calm and resilient as well and it helps bringing that to the role."

So far he's not encountered a situation where he felt out of his depth but were that to occur he's confident there are enough people to call on for advice and support, including an occupational health specialist employed last year and the Cumberland's link to the Care First counselling service.

As one of just two male champions, Aaron is hopeful that the new recruitment drive will add more men to the team.

He says: “Helping to address that balance is an important part of what we're doing because we want everybody to feel comfortable accessing us.

“We've got a broad age range, a broad range of people in terms of seniority in the business, and it will help to have an even split in terms of gender, then all those things combine to mean that there's somebody in the network that hopefully everybody can identify with to some extent.”

What would he advise any colleague thinking of following him and volunteering as a mental health and wellbeing champion?

"I would actively encourage them. It's really rewarding. Obviously not all of the conversations you have are necessarily easy but it's nice to feel like you are making a difference, nice to feel you are helping people when they are reaching out to you.

“It's a good thing for the business to shout about and a good thing for the business to support. I think it makes it a better place to work ultimately.”

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