Using the SENSE framework for difficult conversations with MHFA’s UK ambassador

Unlock the power of seeking and receiving help through the SENSE framework. Discover how assisting others can empower your team's mental wellbeing in the workplace.
Mental Health First Aid Training England

Have you ever found it easier to lend a hand to someone in need than to ask for help yourself? Believe it or not, this is a common phenomenon that affects people from all corners of the world, including your own employees. Whether it’s pride, fear of judgment, or simply feeling like a burden, asking for help can feel like a daunting task.

But what if we told you that the key to unlocking the ability to seek and receive assistance is actually rooted in helping others? In this article, we’ll explore this idea and more using Michelle Morgan’s SENSE framework. Through it, we’ll learn her tips for how to help someone else in need, which in turn helps us to help ourselves.

When it comes to the workplace, specifically, these tips will give you the tools you need to unlock your compassion and ultimately allow your employees to realize their full potential. In Michelle Morgan’s words, this framework “will give you increased confidence and capability around the common sense and natural instincts you already have.” So don’t delay; get started today and see for yourself how these tips can benefit your organization.

We’ll cover

Meet Michelle Morgan!

Michelle is an inspiring, award-winning entrepreneur, leading mental health advocate, and author.

A leading voice on mental health, Michelle is an Ambassador for Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England and an MBCT Mindfulness Therapy Instructor. She is the author of “Own Your Awkward,” an inspiring book that shares her experience of burnout, depression, and anxiety alongside the lived experiences of others going through mental health challenges.

Wearing these multiple, diverse, and purposefully influential hats makes Michelle a fascinating, versatile, and engaging speaker on a range of topics, from leadership, entrepreneurship, and culture to mental health and overcoming adversity. She also offers training in Mental Health First Aid and workshops that help people understand the topic of mental health and get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations, using her frameworks, SENSE and BRAVE.

Engage your SENSE(S)

In her book, “Own Your Awkward,” Michelle Morgan tells the story of how she first opened up publicly about her personal mental health struggles, which in turn prompted others to begin sharing their stories with her. It was proof that her mission was making a difference, and while she was humbled and grateful that they felt comfortable confiding in her, she also felt utterly unprepared for how to respond and comfort them. So she started researching and ultimately decided to take a two-day Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course to learn the tools and gain the confidence needed to assist those struggling with their own mental health.

In doing so, she joined a community of over four million Mental Health First Aiders across the globe, which includes former First Lady Michelle Obama. Danielle Bridge, CEO of a First Aid Training Social Enterprise, describes how, like physical first aid, MHFA aims to “preserve life, prevent deterioration, and promote recovery.” Instead of physically bandaging wounds, however, MHFA works to combat invisible illnesses by providing emotional comfort and support to those who need it most.

But for those of you who don’t have the time to attend the full two-day training, Michelle Morgan has condensed some of the biggest takeaways to help you help others with their mental health. She has done so by creating the SENSE framework, which focuses on safety, empathy, non-judgment, support, encouragement, and sometimes even a sixth sense of intuition, which we have summarized for your convenience below. So read on, learn the tips, and share them with your employees to help them help each other and maybe even give them the push they need to help themselves.

S for Safety

When it comes to having a potentially “awkward” conversation about mental health in the workplace, the first step is to create a safe space where others can feel comfortable opening up. From a physical perspective, this means a relaxed but private setting that is conducive to having a long and potentially difficult conversation. It also means a one-on-one discussion with both parties on equal footing and no inherent power dynamic at play.

In her book, Michelle shares the following ideas to help you find the right mental and physical space for this conversation:

  • Tell them you are here to listen and that you care.
  • When can you make time to talk to them? Ensure you have time for a decent chat (if they want one).
  • Where would the best place be to make them feel comfortable? Perhaps invite them for a walk, coffee, juice, phone call, or Zoom call? Give them options, choice, and control, which might even mean communicating by text or email initially.
  • Minimize background noise and activity; you want to create a good flow or for it to be okay to be quiet.
  • In an emergency, seek support depending on the circumstances, and remember that you are not a mental health professional (unless, of course, you actually are!). Get help.

E for Empathy

Empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably, but they are distinct concepts that describe different emotional responses to another person’s situation. Empathy involves putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and understanding their feelings and experiences from their perspective. It entails feeling what the other person is feeling and being able to communicate that understanding to them.

Sympathy, on the other hand, involves feeling sorry for someone else’s situation or experiencing pity for them and therefore does not require the same level of emotional connection or understanding. Sympathy is often a more superficial or surface-level response to another person’s pain or suffering, and as such, empathy is generally considered to be the preferable response.

To ensure that you are striking the right, empathetic tone, leverage the following tips from Michelle’s book:

  • Seek to understand their pain. Acknowledge and connect.
  • Think about your body language and avoid being in any way “confrontational” – sitting side by side at a slight angle is likely to be more comfortable than sitting directly opposite one another. Walking is a great alternative if the person would like to do that.
  • Use indicators, such as nods, mmm’s, and yes, to let them know you are truly listening.
  • Don’t feel like you must give a response or suggestion to everything they say. Listening, truly listening, might be the greatest gift you can give them.

N for Non-judgment

One of the biggest reasons that people feel uncomfortable opening up about mental health is because of the stigma that surrounds it. Or, in other words, they fear being judged. This is especially true when it comes to the workplace, where people may assume that what they say can and will be used against them. Because of this, it’s of utmost importance to create a judgment-free space and ensure this is both communicated to and understood by employees.

Use Michelle’s tips to put employees in the right headspace for a conversation about their mental health:

  • You’re not here to judge right or wrong.
  • Remember, judgment can be conveyed physically as well as verbally. Be aware of your body language, your expressions, your concentration and attention, and your tone.
  • Try your best to understand, but accept that you might not. You can still support them. Accept the person and what they are sharing as their truth at that moment.
  • Remember, we are all different. Our frame of reference is what shapes our views, behaviors, and responses. It comes from a lifetime of experiences unique to each of us.
  • Notice and acknowledge your feelings; you can’t stop them from coming, but you can choose to put them to one side.
Mental Health First Aid Training England

S for Support

In addition to lending an empathetic ear, make sure your employees feel supported by engaging with their story and taking an active interest in it. Learn about their condition and check in with them regularly after the initial subject is broached. Discuss your own personal experiences if you have them, or recommend bibliotherapy books from the wide range available on the TriggerHub portal. We can help with recommendations too via our TriggerHub App (get in touch for more information).

Take into account Michelle’s ideas for how to support your employees without being overbearing below:

  • Ask if there is anything that they think might help. Offer additional ideas that might be helpful if you have them. Remember, don’t tell; offer.
  • Find ways to reassure them without diminishing what they are experiencing.
  • Normalize what they are experiencing, feeling, and thinking—i.e., it’s more common than you might think for people to struggle with their mental health and wellbeing, and there is help you can get.
  • Let them know they are not alone. Let them know that you care.
  • Let them know that there is always hope and that recovery is the most likely outcome.

E for Encouragement

Once you have gained the trust of the employee in need, encourage them to seek further help as needed. This could take the form of informal conversations with yourself or others or more formalized therapy and treatment. Come armed with ideas or recommendations if they ask for them, and if your company offers assistance with mental health costs, be ready to provide that information as well.

And finally, recommend that they participate in regular self-care, whether that means sleep, exercise, or just making time to engage in their own hobbies outside of work and domestic stresses.

Read through Michelle’s ideas for encouraging recovery from “Own Your Awkward” below:

  • Let them know they’re brave for talking about how they’re feeling.
  • Have they spoken to anyone already? If they have, ask them, what helped then? What was useful?
  • Let them know that there are lots of different types of professional help. You might be able to signpost them towards that help.
  • Encourage them to speak to their doctor or another mental health professional, and reassure them that they won’t be wasting anyone’s time.
  • Beyond your conversation, encourage them to keep talking, either to you and/or others.

(S) for Sixth Sense

Michelle rounds out her framework with the optional sixth sense of intuition, which can be a useful tool in identifying if and when an intervention is needed. Typically, people can sense when things are off with another person, especially if they are familiar with their daily habits and routines. Trust your gut, and check in with those who seem like they need it to ensure they’re getting the help they need. If you’re wrong, they’ll likely appreciate your concern and attention anyway.

So make sure you check out Michelle’s ideas for listening to your own intuition below, and don’t be afraid to make the first move:

  • Listen to your intuition. If in doubt, act and ask.
  • If you have a feeling or sense that something’s not right, there’s a good chance you are right.
  • Sometimes we get a niggle, a feeling; it’s easy to dismiss it, feel like we are misinterpreting something or that it’s not our business, not our place, but maybe that feeling stays with us, or keeps coming back. Listen to it and take notice of it.
  • What are you noticing? What are the signals and signs that something is up?
  • Once you’ve asked, drop into the SENSE framework from the top.

Inquire about Mental Health First Aid Training for your team today

Led by Michelle Morgan, a distinguished figure in mental health and Ambassador for Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, this updated MHFA course is more inclusive and comprehensive, offering additional resources for MHFAiders post-training.

With a track record of transformational outcomes for participants spanning five years, this course is tailored to professionals aiming to become vocal advocates for mental health within their organizations. The training facilitates the development of essential knowledge and skills for HR personnel, professionals, managers, and supervisors.

You can learn more about the course, the duration, and the course outcomes via our Academy. For more information and to inquire about pricing, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We can’t wait to hear from you.

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