Mental Health First aiders in the workplace
Mental health problems are a growing health concern around the world, not just the UK. It’s estimated that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year.
From Brexit to the Coronavirus pandemic, to the war in Ukraine, no one would blame you for demanding that the world stops spinning so you can get off the ride.
With the rise of social media, we are often bombarded with a 24/7 news cycle of what seems like doom and gloom. In reality of course, if you search out good news stories you will find them in abundance (we have provided some references below).
Along with the added pressures of hybrid working and the advances in technology making us more available, employees might find it difficult to switch off and cope with the world we find ourselves in. Could your workplace benefit from a mental health first aider?
What is a workplace mental health first aider?
A mental health first aider (MHFA) is a qualified person who is trained to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill health and provide help and support in a first aid capacity.
MHFAs provide a point of contact for employees who are struggling with mental health issues and/or emotional distress, for example:
- Eating disorders
- Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
- Post-natal depression
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
It is important to note that MHFAs are not trained therapists or psychiatrists, any more than physical health first aiders are qualified doctors or nurses. Their role is to offer initial support by listening and then, if appropriate, direct the person to professionals who can provide detailed help and guidance.
How does a person become qualified as an MHFA?
As with physical first aiders, an MHFA must complete a training course. The course normally lasts two days and is facilitated by several providers including Primed. Attendees will learn to spot the signs and symptoms of mental health issues, how to approach someone who appears to be struggling with their mental health, and the best places to refer colleagues who need professional support.
Who can be a mental health first aider?
Anyone can train to be an MHFA, however, the following characteristics are desirable:
- An interest and empathy in/for mental health.
- Excellent listening skills (not as common as one may think).
- The ability to approach people in a non-threatening way.
- Trustworthiness and an understanding of how important confidentiality is to the role.
Is it a legal requirement to have an MHFA in the workplace?
At present, there is no law stating workplaces must have an MHFA. On 23 March 2021, however, Dean Russell MP introduced a new Bill that would make MHFA training in the workplace a legal requirement. In his introductory speech, the MP for Watford said:
“Just imagine what impact that would have. And the people we could help before they require more urgent support. It would mean that First aiders in every workplace would not just be able to save lives through CPR, but perhaps change lives by asking people how they are.”
He went on to say that the requirement would not burden businesses:
“Just as physical first aiders are not expected to be trained as doctors or paramedics, mental health first aiders are not expected to be counsellors or full-time psychotherapists. The training simply provides the skills for the first aider to identify, understand and help someone who may be experiencing a mental health issue.”
At the time of writing (March 2022), the First-Aid Mental Health Bill was going through its second reading in the House of Commons.
How can a workplace support an appointed MHFA?
It is one thing to appoint an MHFA officer, however, to ensure they can perform their duties it is vital that they are provided with the required support. Strategies that promote success include:
- Document expectations of the MHFA role and communicate this throughout the organisation.
- Provide bi-annual refresher training for MHFA officers and access to mental health periodicals and conferences that may be of benefit.
- Allow MHFA officers to develop relationships with mental health professionals whom they can refer colleagues that require additional support.
- Normalise the discussion around mental health throughout the organisation and ensure everyone understands that the MHFAs have been appointed to support them in complete confidence.
Why is it important for workplaces to care about mental health?
As the barriers around mental health break down thanks to our greater understanding of its impacts, it makes perfect sense for businesses to place as much importance on first aiders for mental health as they do on those dealing with accidents. Studies repeatedly demonstrate that happy employees are more productive, engaged, have fewer sick days, and spread their positivity to customers. It, therefore, makes good business sense to invest in providing an MHFA to ensure that if an employee is having a tough time, they have someone who can listen and refer them to others who can help.
Speak to an expert
We are able to offer mental health first aid training to your employees, along with guidance and support around supporting employees with mental health issues and creating a positive work environment. Our Primed Premium combined subscription gives you unlimited access to employment law, HR and health & safety advice and guidance, plus online resources giving you everything you need to manage a team and keep them safe.
Positive news sources
As promised, here are some positive websites and books to remind you that the world is still a pretty wonderful place and most people are kind. 🙂
Humankind by Rutger Bergman provides an outstanding analysis of how human beings are on the whole, incredibly altruistic, and supportive of each other, especially in times of crisis.
The Well Gardened Mind by Sue Stuart Smith a psychiatrist and avid gardener Stuart-Smith has created a truly uplifting book on the power of gardening – and how it can change people’s lives.
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