Dedicated Mental Health First Aiders

The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have caused a level of understandable anxiety in everyone regarding their own and others’ physical and mental wellbeing and could have a long-term impact on everyone’s mental health. Alongside this, fear and uncertainty about the COVID-19 infection can be exacerbated by work pressures and demands. As the pandemic continues to restrict usual work and home and leisure activities, many staff are feeling isolated whilst others are also juggling caring responsibilities for children and relatives.

Since 2015, over 700 staff and students have been trained as Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA), which is helping to reduce Mental Health stigma at the University and foster a safe, enabling environment where mental and physical health are valued equally.

To develop our Mental Health First Aid service and make this more accessible to the staff community, we have formed the Dedicated Mental Health First Aiders, a network who have completed the MHFA course and who have volunteered to offer confidential and informal support to staff on mental health matters.

Whether it is meeting with a Supporter on Zoom or going for a lunchtime walk with them on campus, the network will provide a non-judgemental, confidential listening ear as well as providing suggestions of other relevant support services, based on the principles of Mental Health First Aid.

Anything discussed with a Mental Health Supporter will be kept confidential, unless there is a concern regarding a risk posed to an individual.

Contact a Mental Health First Aider

You can do so by contacting them as detailed in their profiles below.

Current Mental Health supporters

 Jennifer Eames


I’m Jen, Assistant to the Executive Dean, in the Faculty of Science and Health. I have found that throughout both my professional and my personal life that people seem to feel comfortable to approach me to talk about a range of topics; this may be for advice, an opinion or just someone to talk to who will listen, be there, without judgement, and always in confidence. I have also had the privilege of being a volunteer Samaritan. In addition to this, I have supported close friends, relatives and work colleagues who have experienced a range of mental health, illness and bereavement issues so this is also a key reason why I have volunteered for a MHFA role – i.e. to help others. If any staff member finds themselves in a position where they would like to have a confidential informal chat, do feel free to contact me by email or on Zoom. I work full-time and currently working from home.

 Marie Morris


I currently lead the admin support for Student Wellbeing and Inclusivity. In my personal and professional life I have regularly found myself supporting people going through challenging situations, particularly long-term illnesses, and sadly also those affected by suicide. For several years I was part of a team providing mental health support to people attending a festival. During the height of the COVID pandemic I worked within an NHS trust supporting a team of Directors where I gained my Mental Health First Aid qualification. I work part time, usually three days a week on Colchester campus plus one day from home.

 Madelyn Wright


My life's mission is to be the most joyful me I can be, and to help others to do the same, so I volunteered as a MHFA in order to provide a listening ear and - if wanted - offer practical support to anyone who feels that they need a friend, they're stuck, they don't know where to turn, they feel hopeless or they just want a chat. I work remotely and am happy to meet on Zoom or arrange an in-person meetup on campus or elsewhere in Colchester.

 Susan Wood


I am PA to the Director of UK Data Service and Departmental Officer at the UK Data Archive. The UK Data Service provides researchers with support, training and access to the UK’s largest collection of social, economic and population data. I have volunteered for this role to help and support the well-being of other colleagues, having completed the MHFA course I wanted to have the opportunity to give something back if I can. I am currently working remotely but happy to be contacted initially by email then via Zoom.

 Joanna O'Connor


Hi! I graduated from Essex several years ago after studying my BA in History. I currently work within Student Development as a Work-based Learning Officer. I became a Mental Health First Aider in 2020 and volunteered for this role to help support my colleagues through these tough times. I am regularly on campus and am also happy to have a chat on zoom at lunchtime.

 Karen Leeder


I have been at the University for over 8 years and currently work as a Quality and Academic Development Manager in the QUAD team within the academic section. I have always regarded staff wellbeing as incredibly important and never more so than throughout the last few years when we have all experienced particularly challenging circumstances so I’m keen to use my MHFA skills to support any staff who are in need of it. I work full-time and am currently working remotely from home so I am available to meet via Zoom so if you’d like a chat or just someone to listen please feel free to get in touch.

 Hellen Ekka


Although my focus at Essex is HSC placement expansion, I am a Social Worker by profession, having worked both internationally and within the UK in adult and children’s services for many years. I continue to use my Social Work skills and training in my role as an ECB Safeguarding Officer for local Cricket Clubs as well as for an international cricket charity. More than anything, I have really big ears and a non-judgemental attitude. I want to use my MHFA training at work to just be someone that’s around to listen if you need it, whatever’s going on. You can Zoom me anytime (as long as I’m ‘green’), or pop something over by Zoom chat or email to arrange a cuppa somewhere that’s convenient for you.


I'm the University's Anglican Chaplain. I'm chaplain to everyone - staff and student, whatever your faith or beliefs. I'm really used to holding confidential conversations, and gently accompanying anyone finding life tough. It's my aim to create the most inclusive, non-judgmental chaplaincy I can. I'm often on campus, so do be in touch if you'd like a chat in-person or via Zoom.

Arrow symbol
Contact us
Occupational Health team
Telephone: 01206 872399