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Getting to Know our Mental Health First Aiders: Matt Evans

As strong supporters in the crusade to decrease the stigma surrounding mental health, we recently added ‘I’m a Mental Health First Aider’ stickers to the email signatures of all our MHFA’s – prompting our colleagues to seek help if they are struggling.

With over 40 site and office based mental health first aiders, we decided to catch up with one of our original MHFA’s, to find out why he volunteered to help those struggling with mental health concerns.

Travelling from AmcoGiffen’s Braintree office to our St Albans location, Health and Safety Manager, Matt Evans, walked into the room with a bright demeanour and an immediate tirade of ‘office bantz’. With the appearance of a quintessential Essex ‘man’s man’, Matt’s personal experience with mental health issues isn’t remotely visible – but then, it rarely is, is it?

The Origins

Starting work as an apprentice in fabrication/welding at the age of 17, Matt began working for McGrath Steel, contracting for London Underground, where he spent 6 years on the Kings Cross Station refurbishment project, before being promoted to a site manager. It was at this point that he began to take a keen interest in health and safety. With London Underground crying out for specialists in this area, he was more than happy to oblige, and immediately took the leading hand in audits and compliance checks.

Self-funding his NEBOSH and NVQ level 4 in occupational health and safety, Matt raised his young family while studying in the evenings and at weekends, officially becoming a health and safety advisor after 6 years.

Continuing to operate within the industry, he has worked within the steel and rail divisions across the south east for most of his career – expect with a 4 year gap where he was lead construction health and safety manager in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

As a successful father, husband, and safety professional, with a propensity for ‘joking around’, Matt appeared to have it together.

But appearances can be deceiving...

Stress, depression and Suicide

“As my career progressed, and 1 child became 2, then 3, then 4, I began to struggle with my work-life balance” he told me. “I felt the ever-increasing pressure of supporting and providing for my family, while still seeing them enough to form the relationships I wanted, and I began to spiral into an anxiety and stress-fuelled depression.

‘I would overcompensate for the way I was feeling by smiling more, making people laugh more, or pretending everything was okay. But it wasn’t. The danger of struggling with your mental health, is that it’s so often invisible to those around you. It so often goes undetected.”

Around a similar time, one of Matt’s close relatives was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and was eventually committed to a specialist unit, where he sadly took his own life. This shook his family to the core.

Learning to Recognise the Struggle

Undertaking the 3 day mental health first aid training course, delivered by Mind charity, Matt became a MHFA in 2017. Teaching delegates practical skills to spot the signs of mental illness and giving them the confidence to step in and support a person who needs assistance, Matt says that it’s one of the best things he’s ever done.

“I didn’t realise quite how important and healing talking actually is”, he admitted, “I encourage anyone struggling to confide in someone – if you don’t feel comfortable talking to family or a friend, talk to a mental health first aider.”

Continuing with his refreshing and poignant openness, he finished by saying, “mental health is something that we all have, and we will all struggle to keep it functioning well at some point in our lives. It is so important that we train people to know how to help those who are suffering – you never know what people are dealing with. I am so proud to work for a company that is dedicated to promoting health across all facets of human wellbeing.”

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