It's okay not to be okay: The fight against mental health
Asking someone if they're okay might be easier said than done, but it can make a big difference
The theme of this year's World Mental Health Day is "Make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority," and as a sports team who competes in a sport that travels around the world, the message couldn't be clearer.
Mental health couldn't be more important for a team of people who spend long periods of time away from home, working long hours in a high-pressure environment.
One of the ways in which we are supporting our team at the track, at the McLaren Technology Centre, and while staff are working from home is through our Mental Health First Aiders.
Working within the team in every department, our Mental Health First Aiders are the first line of defence when it comes to tackling issues within ourselves, whether it be depression, anxiety, stress or any other internal struggle.
Amongst our many Mental Health First Aiders is the friendly face of Sergio Stelitano, the team's Performance Coach, who takes care of the travelling team's health and wellbeing.
We sat down with him to discuss the importance of World Mental Health Day and to ask how we can all play our part.
"Mental health, unfortunately, still has a bit stigma around it, but I think we are doing everything we can at McLaren to break that," Sergio says. "I believe my role allows me to be approachable to anyone at any point.
"The way that I look at the role of a Mental Health First Aiders is that you are very much like a standard first aider. You are there as the first point of contact for someone who is struggling with something.
"If you thought you might have broken your arm, you would find a first aider and ask for their help. They wouldn't try and diagnose you or fix the problem, they would support you and suggest the next steps. It is the same thing for us, we are there to listen and to signpost.
"I am not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, I am there as a first point of contact to listen, to help people to open up and to help them take the next steps, if necessary."
Initiated by the World Federation for Mental Health, World Mental Health Day was first celebrated in 1992 and continues to grow.
We have supported mental health initiatives in the past, most recently through 'One Lap for Mind', a fundraising challenge held at the British Grand Prix to raise vital funds for our official charity partner, Mind.
Lando and Daniel attended the event and completed a lap of Silverstone, and both have been vocal supporters of mental health in the past and have helped to raise awareness.
However, as well as our work outside of the team, it is essential not to forget those within and Sergio strongly believes in the measures and support we have in place.
"We have quite a robust system in place now, with access to several Mental Health First Aiders inside the team," he says. "I was part of the first group of people who took it on, and we've had a lot more since, from a wide array of job roles and departments.
"It isn't a case that mechanics can only speak to mechanics and the marketing team can only speak to the marketing team, anyone can speak to anyone. It is a case of having a lot of quality Mental Health First Aiders and creating an atmosphere where people feel comfortable talking to someone.
"All of the Mental Health First Aiders then have a direct line to our Team Psychiatrist, and we can point them in his direction for those who need it. The same thing is happening back at the MTC as well. We've got systems in place now and strategies that we have worked on to try and create a positive atmosphere where people feel that they can reach out."
As Sergio makes clear, a good first aider must be a listener, first and foremost. They need to be approachable and trustworthy, and Sergio has worked hard to become all of those things. His journey to taking on the role began at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic at the Australian Grand Prix.
A team member had tested positive, and while most of the paddock flew home in the days that followed, some McLaren team members remained in Melbourne to quarantine for the safety of themselves and others.
Sergio was amongst those who remained and used what he learned during that difficult period to good effect.
"That emphasised to me the importance of mental health," he explains. "Even people who think they are mentally tough can harness strategies to help cope with challenging situations. Since the pandemic, I think we have become more aware of the importance of mental health and recognise that it is okay not to be okay. It is okay to be struggling and ask for help.
"For me, it felt pretty natural to step into that role. Being a Performance Coach with a history of being a personal trainer, I have a background in working with people, which makes you very good at listening.
"Even outside of that, I am already quite a chatty, talkative person, and I have always tried to make people feel like they can come and talk to me about anything. I am an open person, and people know that whatever they say to me is said in confidence, it is never going to be repeated, and I think that is quite a big thing."
Although Sergio has undergone specific mental health first aid training, we can all play our part by reaching out to our friends and checking in on them - anyone can be that first port of call and make a difference for the better.
But taking that first step to approach someone can often be the most challenging part. It's easier said than done, but Sergio says there are some simple tips we can all use.
"The first thing is not to be afraid to go and say hello," he says. "If I see someone in the garage and they seem like they are having a bit of an off day, I will ask if they are okay. It might be that they don't seem like themselves, they might be quiet, or it could be the opposite, and they are angry or erratic.
"The key thing we learned in our training was that the big thing is to listen and give someone the space to talk. In that sense, there is no wrong way to start that conversation, as long as it comes from a place of wanting to help.
"You don't have to make any judgement calls, but you can suggest they speak to someone else who might be able to help – and keep it light because that makes them feel comfortable.
"You aren't there to fix their problems or to diagnose anything, you're there to help someone take that first step in their journey to better mental health, and we can all play our part in that."
Mind’s website offers information and advice to support everyone. Here, you can find support for yourself and information on how to join the fight for mental health.
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