R U Really OK? is a question now asked repeatedly across Port of Newcastle, with mental health and wellbeing check-ins now part of everyday culture thanks to the pre-pandemic introduction of a team of Mental Health First Aiders, who have strived to lend support to Port colleagues through what, for many, has been a more challenging lockdown than that experienced last year.

“One of the barriers to offering assistance can often be having the confidence or knowledge to identify the best way to step in or show support. In our industry, our people generally consider having skills to provide physical first aid as essential and so we wanted to support the extension of this thinking to a culture of providing mental health first aid support also,” said Marie Omark, the organisation’s Executive Manager of People & Culture.

“It really has proven fortuitous that Port of Newcastle took action pre-pandemic in 2020 to focus on introducing new and innovative ways to building mental health resilience and support within the organisation, particularly through the introduction of accredited Mental Health First Aiders. It has really made the world of difference to our people as they’ve navigated what’s been a particularly challenging lockdown period.”

With 1 in 5 Australians experiencing a mental health condition each year, CEO Craig Carmody said the Mental Health First Aider program has provided a lifeline to Port of Newcastle’s staff as they’ve worked to keep the global deepwater gateway operating uninterrupted despite the real threats posed by the pandemic.

“Mental Health First Aiders are taught how to recognise the cluster of symptoms of different illnesses and of mental health crisis, how to identify the need for support, offer and provide initial help, and how to guide a person towards appropriate treatments and other supportive help such as via our established Employee Assistance Program. Having these skills available within our workforce and able to be delivered peer to peer has proven invaluable during this latest lockdown.”

“Currently we have over 30 of our staff trained as Mental Health First Aiders which means that on average there is one working to support every four employees within our workforce,” Craig said.

Scattered across operational and non-operational roles, the Port’s team of Mental Health First Aiders make up 24% of the workforce.

Among the first to become accredited Mental Health First Aiders were Nicole Humphries and Trent Butler who both say they’ve seen increased demand and opportunities for their skills to be applied over the last four weeks.

“Last year everyone seemed to cope better. This lockdown seems to be having a more severe impact on the wellbeing and mental health of everyone, and we’re all feeling a bit hopeless about when the situation will improve and how long we can keep living at home with our work while balancing other priorities like home-schooling and childcare,” Nicole said.

“Through my Mental Health First Aider training, I’ve been able to identify the emotions people are feeling, reignite their enthusiasm by supporting them to take small steps, chat through feelings and experiences, brainstorm solutions, connect with other assistance available and most of all, let them know that they aren’t alone and that it’s ok not to be ok.”

“The Mental Health First Aiders accreditation badge is now identifiable across the organization and engagement starts with us meeting new employees to explain the program and how we support staff,” said Trent.

“Mental health is a part of everyday conversation at Port of Newcastle with us openly talking with colleagues individually and as teams to provide tools and advice on nutrition, mental health support, establishing healthy routines, managing workloads and zoom fatigue. We also work to create COVID safe social activities to reduce isolation and enable people to show their personality again, such as a whole organisation virtual games session this week.”

The Mental Health First Aider program at Port of Newcastle was delivered by renowned Principal Master Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Caddie Marshall, who has taught over 120 courses across the Newcastle and Hunter region.

“The Mental Health First Aid training program teaches people the skills to help someone they’re concerned about, be it a friend or a colleague. This training delivers critical skills centring around the 4 R’s which are how to recognise, reassure, refer and offer resources,” Caddie said.

“It’s been great to accredit over 30 mental health First Aiders at Port of Newcastle so far, with more scheduled, and to see the tangible difference this is making to wellbeing and coping mechanisms across the organisation.”

To mark R U OK? Day today, Caddie has delivered her hallmark training to all Port of Newcastle employees to provide them with additional support and give them a takeaway toolkit to help them support their loved ones during lockdown and beyond.

“Between working, isolation, home schooling, missing family and friends and social norms, so many of us are struggling and, in the face of this ourselves, lost as to how to help others. We can all do with some much-needed practical steps to help deal with the current COVID climate and uncertainty about the future,” Caddie said.

“Among the tools I encourage everyone to develop are mindfulness, empathy, and acceptance and there’s a wealth of tips and guidance on the Mental Health First Aid Programs website.”

Port of Newcastle’s Mental Health First Aider Nicole says it has been both easy and rewarding to not just take these skills on board, but to put them into practice in the workplace and at home.

“There have been several situations even in recent days where I’ve been able to identify that someone’s not themselves, been able to show empathy and help simply by starting a conversation that’s bigger than just about work. Just 10 minutes of using my Mental Health First Aid training has made all the difference to a colleague,” Nicole shares.

“If I’ve learned anything from becoming a mental health First Aider its not to underestimate the importance of listening, but also sharing your own perspective. It really can help ease that awful feeling of isolation. The value and positive outcome comes from it being reciprocal and that gives you a pretty great feeling to know you’ve helped someone.”

For more on Mental Health First Aid training visit https://mentalhealthfirstaidprograms.com/

Port of Newcastle

Port of Newcastle Port of Newcastle is Australia’s deepwater global gateway, the largest on the nation’s East Coast. Port of Newcastle is more than a port. It exists to build Australia’s prosperity with responsible, integrated and innovative supply chain solutions. With trade worth about $26-billion to the national economy each year, Port of Newcastle enables Australian businesses to successfully compete in international markets. The Port currently handles 4,400 ship movements and 164 million tonnes of cargo annually, including dry bulk, bulk liquids, ro-ro, general and project cargoes and containers. With a deepwater shipping channel operating at 50% of its capacity, significant port land available and enviable access to national rail and road infrastructure, Port of Newcastle is positioned to further underpin the future prosperity of the Hunter, NSW and Australia. As custodians of the region’s critical asset, Port of Newcastle is diversifying its trade as it strives to create a safe, sustainable and environmentally and socially responsible future.

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