“What is a Mental Health First Aider?”, “Why are they important?” one might ask. Well, in a society where 1 in 4 people have mental ill-health, they are far more useful and important than you may think.
Physical First Aiders are a workplace requirement for all businesses. The amount of employees in your organisation and the level of risk in your workplace will determine how many first aiders you need. Yet there is no legal requirement for Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA) in the workplace… but is there an ethical one?
What is Mental Health First Aid?
Mental Health First Aid began in Australia but it has now spread to 24 countries, including the UK. MHFA is both preventative and proactive. It’s a practical, ethical and productive way for employers to invest in the mental and emotional health of their staff - which reaps benefits for everyone.
It’s a big (yet simple) step to take. It encourages employees to lessen the stigma that still surrounds mental health. It encourages people to speak about emotional matters and mental struggles more openly and positively in the workplace.
What do MHFAs do?
Generally, the purpose of a MHFA is to be a point of contact for employees if they are experiencing emotional distress or suffering in silence with mental health problems, such as stress, anxiety or depression, for example.
Mental Health First Aiders are trained to listen. They are trained to spot the early signs of mental ill-health in others. They are taught to confidently signpost someone to appropriate support, both internal and external, and they are equipped to deal with emergencies too - such as psychosis, thoughts of suicide, or attempted suicide.
It is important to note however - that MHFAs are not qualified therapists/counsellors/psychiatrists. They cannot advise, but they can listen and offer support options. They are trained to:
- Maintain confidentiality (unless someone’s physical safety or life is at risk)
- Spot early signs of mental ill-health
- Assess the risk of self-harm or suicide
- Listen to what people are saying without judgement
- Know when to contact the emergency services (if it’s required)
- Care for their own physical safety and mental wellbeing
- Know how to start a conversation with someone who may be experiencing emotional or mental ill health
- Encourage people to use additional support that’s available, including internal and external support systems
- Complete critical incident documents where necessary
Who should go on a Mental Health First Aid Course?
MHFA England are aiming to “train 1 in 10 of the population”. The training is open to anyone - so really it’s a case of the more the merrier (literally). Employers may want to consider the following before sending staff on the course:
- Do the individuals want to learn about mental health and help others with theirs?
- Will they be able to maintain the role alongside their current role?
How to promote your Mental Health First Aid
As a part of introducing new employees to the company, it is a good idea to make all employees aware of who both the physical and mental first aiders are. Each company may promote and approach the services provided by their MHFA differently. Companies can consider ensuring that Mental Health First Aiders:
- Are introduced to new staff when they join
- Send periodic email reminders to the team to remind them of the service
- Have their name, photo, location and availability on a shared drive/intranet or company notice board
MHFA at iHASCO
Whilst conducting research for our Mental Health Awareness Courses Lottie (one of our scriptwriters & Studio Manager) stumbled across MHFA and was impressed with what she read. As well as this, Lottie, Amanda, Dave and Bradley also attended an IOSH Conference in which they listened to a talk given a spokesperson from a construction company - they had experienced great success with MHFA in their workplace. Soon after, a group decision was made and Lottie and Amanda were booked on the two day course.
To be honest, the need for MHFA wasn’t clear until fairly recently. Clients had been asking for a course and it was while doing the research for this we realised we must do better at iHASCO. Lottie and Amanda volunteered and were duly sent on a training course and we’ve never looked back. It’s become very clear that this type of help is every bit as crucial as actual First Aiders or Fire Wardens etc. Some staff have benefitted by accessing the help provided but I believe everyone else has benefitted by the change in conversations and attitudes appointing MHFAs has caused. Absence is down too so it’s been an easy win for iHASCO
I would also add that the MHFAs only do as much as they feel comfortable with and if they feel further help is required then employees can arrange a meeting with 1 of the 2 professional external counsellors that we use.
We offer 6 courses as part of our Mental Health & Wellbeing bundle:
- Mental Health Awareness Training
- Mental Health Awareness Training for Managers
- Mental Health Awareness in Construction Training
- Mental Health Awareness Training for Carers & Nurses
- Mental Health Awareness Training for Education Professionals
- Stress Awareness Training
By providing this training, we hope that we can play our part in raising awareness for both employees and employers on understanding, recognising and managing mental ill health as well as maintaining and celebrating good mental health and wellbeing!