SMOHIT-SMART MAP, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) workers’ Member Assistance Program, administered by the Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT), has reignited peer in-person training after COVID-19 put a pause on all in-person events. The peer training events, unlike the three-day SMART MAP general awareness training, are conducted at the local level with rank-and-file members who are trusted by their peers, empathetic in nature and willing to learn more and become peer advocates in their local unions. The training focuses on communication, confidentiality and building local resources.
October marked the first of three in-person peer trainings, held at Sheet Metal Workers Local 66 in Western Washington, Local 359 in Phoenix and Local 9 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. SMART MAP trainers have been conducting peer trainings virtually, but the success of virtual training was “not as effective as in person,” said Chris Carlough, SMART MAP program coordinator.
“The idea was always to use the Zoom platform as a bridge to deliver this vital information to our local leaders until we were able to get back to in-person training,” he said. “This type of training is most effective when delivered in person because the real-world conversations will be taking place face to face.”
Prior to the COVID-19 hiatus, more than 100 mentors coast-to-coast had been trained during peer training sessions. Since reopening to in-person training, another 75 mentors over the fall season will be trained, leading to a significant ramp up in training in 2023.
SMART MAP is a mental health awareness and action program that helps train mentors on issues associated with substance use disorder and suicide prevention. The mentors then make themselves available to their co-workers and their union brothers and sisters with solutions, helping members and their families access necessary resources when they need them. Essentially, they provide triage support until they can get the member the professional help they need.
During three-day SMART MAP regional trainings, union leadership teams from across the country participate and receive this general awareness training. During peer training events, any mentor identified by their locals and JATCs as compassionate, empathetic, trusted and reliable can attend the class. Together with experts in the field of mental health, they support members through whatever challenges and hurdles that arise.
One of the ways mentors are prepared for real-world situations is through role play and discussion during SMART MAP training.
“We have to draw conversations out of the people we need to help,” Carlough said. “And that can be challenging. Mental health issues can be frustrating because they’re complex in nature.”
SMART MAP also looks at various local union and JATC resources, as well as employer resources and employee assistance programs, to help mentors make the most of what is available for members to access, including nearby treatment centers and community resources.
Carlough noted that mentors need to practice self-care as well, especially when stymied by difficult cases, when trying to help someone can be arduous.
“It’s important that you take care of yourself,” Carlough said. “Otherwise, it’s hard to be able to take care of others, much like a lifeguard who has to be strong enough to swim for two. If you’re taking care of yourself, you’ll have the emotional energy to help others.”