meet our mental health first aiders: simone and natalie

posted on March 2021 by gap personnel group


For Time to Talk Day we joined in the conversation by sharing advice and insights from our 11 Mental Health First Aiders, about how they tackled the mental challenges of lockdown.



Simone Blackburn, Compliance Manager - Specialist in Operations and Group Accounts 



Who are you, what do you do within gap?

I’m Simone Blackburn, I am a Compliance Manager - Specialist in Operations and Group Accounts so my job role varies from auditing, policy and process writing to looking after and implementing new systems like the portal, gapnet, Matchmaker and Time Moto.

Who are you outside of work?

In work I’m a maniac doing five jobs at once, outside of work I’m really laid back. I like nothing more than reading a good book snuggled with the dog or beating my 7-year-old nephew on Fortnite. I also love travelling and exploring, when its permitted.

Why did you want to become a Mental Health First Aider?

When I was 18 I was diagnosed with three long term illnesses which I still struggle with now. It put me in a really bad place for a while and as part of coming to terms will my illnesses I had to see a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, who helped change my mentality and taught me to stop running into the wall! I wanted to pay that forward in some way, so if I can help one person then I think it will have been worth it.

What has your experience of lockdown been like, how have you found it?

Lockdown has been really tough for me. I have a big family and we are used to having frequent get togethers but due to lockdown that’s not been possible. A couple of my close relatives have been critically ill and we have sadly lost a few members of the family too. I think the hardest thing has been not being able to console one another. Nothing beats a good hug to make you feel better! I’m also used to travelling around a lot so working from home has been a huge culture change.

What have you done to support your wellbeing?

I have tried to put my spare time into something productive, so over the first and second lockdown I built a summerhouse which arrived in thousands of pieces and also a shelter for my hot tub. I’m a dab hand at landscaping, concreting and carpentry now! I have also enrolled into a couple of courses to further my knowledge in coding. Yes I’m a nerd!

Do you have any tips you have implemented personally or within the team to support wellbeing? 

I take a 30-minute lunchbreak each day where I take the dog for a walk, away from the screen and phone. I do the same in the evenings for a couple of hours, whether that be dog walking, reading or getting in the hot tub. Screen time has increased for everyone during lockdown, and not only Is this bad for your health but also your mental health! With the amount of doom and gloom in the news and on social media, it just feels good to switch off and be oblivious to what’s happening even if only for a little while.

Natalie Cavalli – Area Manager, Flint

Who are you? What do you do within gap?

I have worked for gap personnel since May 2016 and I was originally brought on as Branch Manager in Leeds. I have recently had a promotion to Area Manager and will be supporting the growth of the region.

I am 43, have an 8-year-old son called Jack and have been with my other half Bradley for 12 years! Life for me is about my family and friends and now this is more important than ever. Everything I do is for my son which prior to lockdown entailed football, football practice, karate, kick boxing plus much more so I don’t really have much time for myself!

Why did you want to become a Mental Health First Aider?

I used to work with someone with complex mental health issues and although I think I dealt with it professionally and compassionately, I have had no formal training and it’s important that you are as knowledgeable as possible to ensure you are giving them the right support and guidance. One in four people in the UK suffer from a mental health issues and the majority of these cases have no one to speak to. I have lost a friend to mental health and would like to think if there was more awareness and support available then she wouldn’t have taken her own life. I believe that I am approachable, non-judgemental, compassionate and understanding which are all the characteristics you need to be able to support others. 

What has your experience of lockdown been like, how have you found it?

The two hardest things for me without a doubt have been not being able to see my parents and the effect lockdown one had on my son. I have seen my mum five times since March last year and as my mum has very complex health issues and falls within the extremely vulnerable category I’ve had to air on the side of caution at all times. Although we spend time on video call it’s not the same as in person. Another challenge for me was seeing my son’s mental health suffer especially in the first lockdown. He is only eight but as an only child he struggled with not interacting with other children and had times of loneliness. For any parent this is heart breaking but we have overcome this now and he is in a really good place.

When you haven't struggled during lockdown, what do you think the reason has been for that?

I have been through many challenges in my life and have learnt if you can’t change a situation then you just need to get on with things. Worry about the things you can change and not the things you can’t. Also, I have been very fortunate that work has been busy so apart from working from home, nothing has changed too much for me.

Do you have any tips you have implemented either personally or within the team to support wellbeing? 

Within our team we are all very aware and understand if someone is having a bad day. We all have very honest and open dialogue and we are all approachable and can discuss anything with each other. If I see that someone might be having an off day, I will pick up with them separately and support where necessary. We also pick up regularly throughout the day in team chat where we play silly games and share funny stories with each other. Outside of work we have spent a lot of time doing the things in the house we would not ordinarily have had time to do.