13 Jul 2024
The voice of the independent garage sector

From zero to 100 on mental health awareness

Fix Auto UK has been looking to break down workplace barriers and now has 100 qualified Mental Health First Aiders across the business

If asked to describe the last few years in a business sense, the word turbulent springs to mind. Dealing with the uncertainty of the pandemic and the consequent economic hangover has been less than ideal, however, arguably the greatest silver lining to emerge from it is a more unified understanding of mental health.

COVID-19 was a visceral reminder for many regarding the importance of mental health. Aside from the imminent worry of the disease itself, many were forced to confront feelings of acute loneliness when kept away from loved ones or colleagues. On a more positive note, others discovered drastic mental health benefits when given some breathing space to assess their habits, in some cases completely overhauling their exercise and dietary regiments in pursuit of this newfound mental energy.

As the nation and wider world eventually returned to work, by-products of these home-grown epiphanies appeared to start manifesting into the working world. Although mental health awareness has been somewhat at the forefront of public agenda for some time, a 2023 study conducted by the CCLA’s Corporate Mental Health Benchmark shows that 57% of the companies sampled “state a management commitment to tackling the stigma associated with workplace mental health; an increase of 13% on 2022.”

Despite this clear increase in mental health awareness, there still remains a discrepancy between organisations that promote tackling the stigma of mental health, and the subsequent action taken by businesses to ensure it. Fix Auto UK does not fit that description.

Mental health journey
Almost a year ago to the date, Fix Auto UK’s Regional Business Manager Carl Norton kickstarted the company’s mental health journey with a single aim, to train at least two individuals at each of the network’s 115 bodyshops to identify signs of mental ill health and arm them with the knowledge to help colleagues in need.

A volunteer for the Samaritans, mental health is an issue close to Carl’s heart. After considering a variety of educational training courses designed for workplace application, and with full sponsorship from Fix Auto UK, he embarked on a course which resulted in him becoming a fully qualified trainer for Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA), effectively a licence to provide in-house two-day training courses which provides successful candidates with a recognised certificate to be a qualified mental health first aider. Prior to the inaugural course, Carl had “several sleepless nights” by his own admission due to nerves, however, was overjoyed with the “phenomenal feedback” he received from “a broad mixture of students” from all levels of age and seniority.
“The reality is we don’t tend to know how to take care of our mental health, or even identify when someone is suffering with it,” Carl commented when asked about the course. “Being a mental health first aider isn’t about being a therapist. You simply learn how to recognise warning signs of mental ill health and develop the skills and confidence to approach and support someone while keeping yourself safe.”

Speaking of his experience of the course, Assistant Manager of Fix Auto Liverpool Alex Lewis commented: “I like to believe our doors are always open for staff to walk in and speak their mind. Having been on the course, I now feel confident to potentially identify whether a colleague needs support and reach out to them. I have no doubts in my mind that every repair centre should have a qualified Mental Health First Aider.”

Profound impact
The inaugural course in 2022 produced 14 mental health first aid graduates comprising predominantly of senior management, and a selection of representing repairers from within the network. Spurred on by the successful trial, the second course in early 2023 was opened up to include a broad spectrum of candidates ranging from business owners, heads of departments, bodyshop managers and technicians. In fact, such was the profound impact of the course, three business owners who participated in the second two-day event vowed to sign up key members of their respective management teams.

Summing up the second course, Terry Gilbert, owner of Fix Auto Stevenage and chair of the Fix Auto UK National Leadership Team, said: “It was brilliantly captivating throughout. I truly wish I know now when I started out all those years ago. We are living and working through completely different times but now I’ve sat through the course, I’m convinced I could have helped a couple of highly valued colleagues who, unfortunately, had to leave us.”
By the mid-year point of 2023, Fix Auto UK surpassed 50 mental health first aid graduates, deeming the half century a suitable time to roll out the scheme to the entire network. However, it is worth noting that although simply getting people through the course is one thing, tailoring it to the requirements of the accident repair industry is another.

Fix Auto UK’s Managing Director Ian Pugh realises this, commenting at this stage that “while Carl has followed the strict guides laid down by Mental Health First Aid England, as this is so new to the industry, we have literally been finding our own way in which we feel the course benefits our industry. I’m delighted to say that we’re now able to build upon those successes.”

Galvanised by the unanimous network-wide support, in September 2023, the landmark of having 100 qualified Fix Auto UK Mental Health First Aiders became a reality. Achieving such a feat less than 18 months after the initiatives’ inception makes the milestone ever sweeter, and also makes the initially ambitious target of having 2 qualified MHFA staff members at every Fix Auto site now seem inevitable.

Gaining momentum
Speaking of the achievement, Carl Norton stated on final day of the landmark course that “this is an extremely proud day for me, personally, and for the network. To have 100 successfully qualified Mental Health First Aiders in less than 18 months is beyond all my expectations when we started this journey, but this really is just the start. The course is gaining momentum with our Franchise Partners and will only accelerate, and the feedback from those who have attended has been incredible.”

To echo the initial sentiment, actions speak louder than words, and with Carl’s and the wider network’s support, the goal of reaching two Fix Auto mental health first aiders per bodyshop will undoubtedly become a reality.