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Gemma Davies works as a Checkout Manager at Tesco. A few years ago she experienced a period of poor mental health and was off work for six months. Her experience of coming back to work set her on a life-changing path.

"When I returned from work I felt there was nobody to speak to, nobody to turn to. I was talking to a current union learning rep about how there was very little mental health support in store. Not just in store but in Tesco as a whole.”

After discussions with her union, USDAW, and her personnel manager Gemma was offered the chance of doing a mental health first aid course.

What is a mental health first aider?

The mental health first aid course Gemma did was a three-day accredited course. It covered many aspects of mental health, including:

  • Common symptoms of poor mental health
  • The different types of mental health issues people experience including Schizophrenia
  • What support exists for people experiencing mental health problems.

Gemma explains that she is now a qualified mental health first aider, but that doesn’t mean she’s a medical professional.

“Not that we can prescribe or be GPs, but we can recognise the signs and symptoms of someone that's struggling.”

Sharing her knowledge about mental health

After she completed to course, Gemma shared her new knowledge with her colleagues, and also with her managers.

“I didn't think it was going to go down as emotionally as it did. But there were managers that are really hard, and you wouldn’t think they’d struggle with mental health. But a lot of them opened up about their experiences. This has helped them support colleagues experiencing mental health issues.”

Gemma is so enthused about mental health that she’s considering a change of career. “I've never thought about being a mental health worker but from the journey that I've gone on personally and with other colleagues I'd like to give something back. So I think my journey is going into mental health. Definitely. And I think if the WULF funding and the union hadn't allowed me to do the mental health first aid course, I don't think I would have gone that way.”

Becoming a leader and a Union Learning Rep

As well as the satisfaction of being able to help colleagues facing mental health issues, taking the course has had a positive impact on Gemma herself. Since qualifying as a mental health first aider she has also become a Union Learning Rep (ULR).

She then she met a woman from the charity Chwarae Teg who told her about their Women in Leadership programme. 

Gemma says, “I thought ‘This is fab! I'm a woman, I'm in leadership, I want to progress in the company, and I'm sure there are other people in store who’d want to do this.' There were a lot of women in store who didn't know where they were going. So I thought the Women in Leadership programme would help them find their path. A lot of them have children but just because they're mums it doesn't mean they can't have a career.”

With Gemma’s help, and funding from WULF, 14 women from the store completed the leadership course and graduated in Cardiff University. Gemma can rightfully feel proud of their achievements: “One lady was a stock controller in Tesco, she left and she's now a teaching assistant. Another lady was in the cash office and she's now got her own business as a florist. Other people progressed - they were a general assistant now they're a manager. They just found themselves and learned a lot about themselves.”

Gemma continues to enjoy helping people through her role as Union Learning Rep: “Lots of people approach me and I try and support them as much as I can. Even if I don't know the answer I'll find the answer or direct them in the right path. So it may not be through WULF funded projects but if I can support them with any learning I will try my best.”

Get involved with mental health in your workplace

If you’re interested in becoming a mental health first aider like Gemma, talk to your Union Learning Rep.

Please fill out our mental health in the workplace survey. Your responses will help us create resources on how workplaces can improve mental health and well-being for everyone.

The survey is available in English and in Welsh