Wellness Working Group Virtual meeting: Kooth, Mental Health Support for Children and Young People

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Wellness Working Group Online Event

Kooth.com, Mental Health Support for Children and Young People
Time: 11am – 12pm
Date: Friday 16 April 2021

Dr. Lynne Green, Consultant Psychologist and Chief Clinical Officer and Gareth Evans, Director of Accounts and Engagement for Kooth will cover what Kooth is for children and young people, how to talk to parents about Kooth, how to access their services and discuss some case studies on the work they do with children and young people.

1 in 5 children and young people suffer from mental health illness in any given year. Kooth.com is commissioned by the NHS and Local Authorities to provide anonymous and personalised mental health support for children and young people, providing end to end support whatever the need.

To join this meeting, please email mpsstaff-wwg@parliament.uk

As always, please feel free to share this event with your colleagues and encourage them to join the Group.

6-week Mindfulness Course for MPs’ staff

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The world we live in is fast paced and dynamic – while this can feel exciting it can also become overwhelming, so how do we navigate our lives skilfully?  Mindfulness supports resilience and well-being. It is particularly valuable at this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, equipping you with tools to relate to challenging situations, and to form helpful daily habits.

The Working Mind mindfulness programme – new to Parliament this year – is designed specifically for the workplace and is suitable for beginners as well as those who have some familiarity with mindfulness.

This 6-week online mindfulness programme will be interactive and experiential. Between classes you will be invited to practice guided meditations using an app, and to explore ‘mindfulness in action’.

Please note that this programme is only open to Members’ Staff of the House of Commons

For further details and to sign up, please go to this ACT page: https://parliament.learningpool.com/mod/facetoface/view.php?f=1899

All MP staff virtual Q&A session – Dealing with distressed and suicidal callers

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As you may be aware, the Members’ Services Team runs a monthly phone-in Q&A session for MPs’ staff. The next one is taking place on Wednesday 16 December, 3-4pm and the theme of this session will be dealing with distressed and suicidal callers.

For further information and a link to join the meeting, please see this page on the intranet:

https://intranet.parliament.uk/business-news/news-current-issues/news/2020/december/all-mp-staff-virtual-qa-session–dealing-with-distressed-and-suicidal-callers/

Wellness Working Group – new intranet page

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The Wellness Working Group has a new intranet page, and you can find it here: https://intranet.parliament.uk/people-offices/offices-departments/commons-departments/hr-finance/members-staff-wellness-working-group

The Wellness Working Group (WWG) is a cross party group of MPs’ staff which aims to place a greater focus on staff welfare and improve support for the well-being of members’ staff both on and off the Parliamentary Estate.

Wellness Working Group

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The Wellness Working Group is a cross party group of MPs’ staff with the aim of placing a focus on staff welfare and improving support for MPs’ staff well-being. Support mechanisms have tended to focus almost exclusively on Members and House Staff, with MPs’ staff needs often being forgotten or left in the background. The uniqueness of working for an MP cannot be overstated. The Wellness Working Group is firmly of the belief that more needs to be done to recognise the often complex and challenging role of MPs’ staff and the unparalleled challenges they face. Many staff have already shared their experiences and we are keen to hear from as many MPs’ staff as possible, regardless of party colours since the challenges we face are some that only MPs’ staff will be fully able to relate to.

MPs’ staff are increasingly under pressure with intense workloads and are often dealing with very distressed and vulnerable constituents who bring issues that are harrowing and emotionally demanding. The cumulative effect of this type and volume of work can have impacts on our own mental health. This makes it crucial that we have measures in place to cope and be able to look after ourselves. It is only by looking after ourselves that we will be able to continue perform well and to help others. Staff are often overstretched, which in a crisis gets worse. Also, staff are often left with lots of distressing details and nowhere ‘to put’ them. This is not exclusive to caseworkers. Administrators are often the first point of contact in the office by answering the phone or filtering the inbox and researchers and parliamentary assistants can be involved in very harrowing topics for debates. Office managers are often in a difficult place between the Member and the staff team and many find themselves picking up any additional workload the team faces. In addition, they often feel responsible for their team’s well-being, which can be especially difficult given the harrowing nature of the work, whilst perhaps not having the same outlet or well-being support that they are providing to their teams. The Wellness Working Group believes more adequate support needs to be put in place for MPs’ staff well-being. Furthermore, training on mental health ought to be offered so that a greater focus is placed on self-care, allowing staff to be better equipped to cope with demanding and important work.

The increase in the number of campaigns and heated nature of politics means it is common for MPs’ staff to be put in the position of answering aggressive correspondence, directed to their Member as a public figure, and feeling the force of people’s anger. This extends to threats and abuse made to staff who have not signed up to be publicly accountable. So often staff are isolated, whether in small offices in Westminster or in constituency offices all around the country. Now with Covid-19 and home working, we are conscious that staff might feel even more disconnected and overwhelmed with the work they are facing. We understand many staff relied on their workplace for social interaction and support, which has been somewhat lost in many cases, also meaning boundaries between home and work are blurred.

We were pleased that IPSA added £4000 to the MPs’ staffing budget for well-being and training recently. We see this as a starting point in staff welfare being recognised as a concept and see that we have much further to go if staff welfare is to be properly considered. The Wellness Working Group has several aims, which include: developing a well-being policy, establishing peer support networks that could provide a space to share experiences, knowledge and expertise whilst creating more of a sense of community, the provision of better mental health training and having a ring-fenced budget from IPSA so that well-being costs do not have to come from already stretched budgets, to name a few.

We would encourage you to join our Group because it is by supporting one another that we can make a difference. What we have in common as staff is unique. Working for an MP is a job that is often hard to describe to those who have not experienced it. Members of the Group come from all parts of the UK and from all political parties. We understand that the challenges may differ but all are equally valid when people are struggling. So far we have held meetings in Scotland and in London, but we are now holding these meetings virtually. We are trying to avoid the focus being on people reaching crisis point and more on creating something that helps people to avoid that point, or recover quickly if they do.

The Wellness Working Group can be found on the intranet here: https://intranet.parliament.uk/people-offices/offices-departments/commons-departments/hr-finance/members-staff-wellness-working-group/

If you would like to be involved or have any questions, then please feel free to get in touch: mpsstaff-wwg@parliament.uk

Health & Wellbeing

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Parliament has an excellent Health & Wellbeing service which can be accessed by Members’ Staff.

From their homepage, you can find details of the Employee Assistance Programme, run by Health Assured, which provides help for Members’ staff to deal with personal and professional issues, including:

  • Health and well-being information
  • Financial issues
  • General advice on employment law
  • Stress at home or work and relationship matters.

As part of the programme Health Assured run a free confidential helpline, which is available 24/7, and face-to-face counselling sessions can also be arranged where appropriate.  You can find the telephone number and details of how to access their online service here.


Six Top Tips for Mental Health & Wellbeing

Tips for Emotional Wellbeing while working from home

w4mp Guide to Working From Home

Other Useful Links


Six Top Tips for Mental Health & Wellbeing

Reframe unhelpful thoughts

  • Limit the amount of time you are spending looking at the news and stick to trusted news sources. Only check the news once or twice a day.
  • Seek opportunities to amplify positive stories.

Useful links: Gov Hub / Anxiety UK / Anxiety UK YouTube / CfCS Wellbeing Hub

Be in the present

  • Mindfulness and meditation can help you be in the present.
  • There are a number of free apps the NHS recommend to get started

Useful links: NHS Apps / Mind / NHS Breathing Video / NHS Mindfulness / Headspace

Get good sleep

  • Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule and ensure your bedroom creates optimal sleeping conditions, the room should be the right temperature between 15 to 22 degrees Celsius, free from noise and light.
  • Don’t nap during the day and limit exposure to bright light and screen usage in the hour before you intend to sleep.

Useful links: NHS / Mental Health Foundation / Every Mind Matters / CfCS Sleepstation

Connect with others

  • You should keep connected to your team, with regular contact through calls, skype and/or video hangouts, to see how they are. Regular check in times are key as is striking a balance between having a routine and making sure each day has some variety.
  • Be sure you have up to date contact information for vulnerable/older friends and relatives who may have to self isolate for longer periods.

Useful link: Mind Checklist

Live a healthy life

  • If you feel well enough you can take part in light exercise within your home or garden.
  • If you are not in a vulnerable group and not self isolating due to symptoms consider going for a quick walk but try to walk somewhere quiet and maintain 2m from others.

Useful links: NHS Fitness Studio / NHS 12 Week Fitness Plan / Fitness Blender

Do something for yourself

  • If you are going to be in your home for an extended period, it is important you plan breaks in your working day and organise activities you’re interested in at night.
  • Activities such as cooking, reading, online learning and watching films.

Useful links: Open University Free Courses / BBC Podcasts / BBC Good Food / A to Z of Wellbeing


Tips for Emotional Wellbeing while working from home

Working from home will mean different things to different people, and the impact of this move will vary depending on the type of work you normally do, whether this can be done easily from home or not and your personal situation.

Below are some ideas to help you look after your wellbeing over the coming weeks.

Routine
We all have our routines and when life changes happen these routines are disturbed and this can cause a sense of unease at a time when we crave stability. It is therefore important to keep as much day to day normality as possible while working from home.
Give some thought to how you can maintain your daily routines or supplement them in a positive way.
For example, stick you your normal wake up/ bed times, shower and dress each day and deliberately use the extra time (saved from travelling etc.) in a positive way; exercise at home, read a book, have a leisurely breakfast and so forth. Identify other routines you have and keep/ adapt them accordingly.

Take breaks.
As above it is important to stick to your normal work schedule as much as possible and breaks are as important at home as they are at work, perhaps even more so. It can be easy to get distracted when working at home and attention is a finite resource, taking regular short breaks allows the mind to rest and then re-focus on the task at hand. Lunch breaks are also important, don’t be tempted to grab a bite to eat and work through, consider using the time to eat healthily, spend time with other people in the household of get some fresh air if possible.

Set boundaries.
It is important to have clear boundaries for your workday, not just to ensure you meet expectations, but to ensure you do not overwork. Because you are on your own, you may be tempted to start earlier, finish later and not take your breaks, but this is counterproductive as you risk burning out – try to keep to your normal daily hours and routine.
Physical boundaries are also important, try to set up a dedicated workspace (even a corner of the kitchen or a different seat to normal) so you mentally enter and exit the “work zone”, this will help you focus on work when there, and let it go when you are not. It may be worth talking to other household members about your boundaries too, so you don’t get drawn into non-work conversations and situations when trying to work.

Acknowledge how you feel.
We are in the midst of a difficult, worrying time and so it is normal for us to feel different about life, to worry, to think about possible outcomes and to struggle with the uncertainty. On top of this, it is normal to feel a sense of concern about working from home, we may feel anxious or stressed as we worry about whether we appear busy enough, we may be overly concerned with trying to make ourselves available or proving how productive we are being. We may also feel a sense of guilt about not being in the office, not being able to complete certain tasks, and all these emotions can lead us to question our own worth. So be kind to yourself, allow space for these thoughts and feelings but try not to let them overwhelm you. it is important to remember that these are thoughts not facts and it is perfectly normal to experience them.

Practice Compassion and Gratitude.
This is already a testing time for many, and things may get worse, creating uncertainty and even fear. In these conditions it is normal for humans to focus on themselves, and this may lead to irritability, anger, frustration etc. towards others. By choosing compassion towards others (especially family members!!), trying to understand what other people are going through and how they feel, and practicing gratitude for what we have (rather than focussing on what we do not have or have lost) we can maintain good relations with those around us and create a much better environment for us all to live and work in.

Humans are social animals.

Remember humans have evolved to live and work in groups, and so any kind of isolation places an extra burden on us. Being isolated from work colleagues that we normally spend a large amount of time with can impact on how we feel, so make a concerted effort to stay in touch, and not just about work related issues.
Also make a point of reaching out to your social circles, friends, family, groups etc. and maintain those links that we all need for our wellbeing. It is also a good idea to keep in touch with those people who may be vulnerable at this time, encourage them to look after themselves and offer help where possible.

Look after your Psychological needs.
We have all heard stories about people bulk buying food and provisions to ensure their physical needs are met, but what about your emotional/ psychological needs? We all have psychological needs (such as the need for recognition, significance, achievement, connection to others and growth) and work plays a large part for most people in getting those needs met.
While working at home it is important to recognise that these still need to be met, but the mechanisms that previously supported us are temporarily unavailable. Therefore be kind to yourself, you may feel worried or alone, you may feel like you are not as “good” as normal or achieving as much as normal, and that is OK. Take time to focus on what you have achieved, learn to congratulate yourself, acknowledge any negative thoughts or feelings you may have but remind yourself these are difficult times and that you are only human.

Look after your mental health
The change to routines, the pressure of appearing busy, being productive, being isolated, losing connections and feeling guilty/ anxious may impact on our mental health, and anyone who has an existing mental health condition may find it is impacted.
It is important to plan ahead for our mental health, figure out what supports our mental health, who we can talk to, what help is available locally and nationally and what to do if we feel in crisis.

Resources and contacts
Below are some resources we can all access to help support us through the next few weeks:
Your line manager can help with work issues but may also be able to offer support on other topics.

Parliamentary Health and Wellbeing Service – although PHWS will also be subject to any restrictions in Parliament, they will still be answering emails and can be contacted regarding wellbeing issues.
Heath Assured – our Employee Assistance Provider can be contacted on 0800 030 5182 and https://intranet.parliament.uk/employment/health-and-wellbeing/employee-assistance-programme-eap—health-assured/

NHS – Please follow the most recent advice regarding contacting the NHS, however the NHS website is accessible to everyone at any time https://www.nhs.uk/ and contains a wide range of useful information and links to other resources.

Samaritanshttps://www.samaritans.org/ phone 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org to have a confidential conversation with someone about anything that concerns you


Other Useful Links

Your Mind Plan (NHS): https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters/your-mind-plan-quiz/

MIND: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/coronavirus/coronavirus-and-your-wellbeing/

Anxiety UK: https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/coronanxiety-support-resources/

MP and Staffers’ guide to Mental Health: http://www.w4mp.org/2020/01/09/mp-and-staffers-guide-to-mental-health-2/