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Mental Health First Aiders - what are they and why do you need them?

What are Mental Health First Aiders? Why are they important?

“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?

Here at iHASCO we believe that mental wellbeing is just as important as physical wellbeing. It’s that simple. That’s why we have three MHFAs here - Lottie Galvin, Amanda Lowndes and James Wilson.

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

Download our free Mental Health White Paper today to gain a better understanding of Mental Ill-Health in UK workplaces.

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?

MHFA England offer a comprehensive Mental Health First Aid 2-day course, a MHFA Champions 1-day course and a Mental Health Aware half day course

Due to COVID-19 the courses are currently being offered online.

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

our mental health first aiders

Several years ago, 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 and Amanda 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. At the end of last year, James Wilson completed the MHFA course to become iHASCO’s third Mental Health First Aider, to support our growing organisation.

As a Mental Health First Aider, I am here to help lighten any mental or emotional loads someone may be carrying by actively listening and signposting them to further help if they need or want it. Sometimes providing a listening ear is all that is required. It is an incredibly rewarding role, and I get a huge sense of satisfaction being able to support and help someone. Overall, since iHASCO introduced MHFAs, everyone in the organisation has benefitted from the change in conversations and attitude surrounding mental health. It has also provided a more supportive and open company culture, where we want to look after each other within our iHASCO family.

Amanda Lowndes, Head of Support and MHFA

Mental Health First Aid during COVID-19

The role of Mental Health First Aid during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, is incredibly important. With continued uncertainty and lack of control, many individuals are finding it extremely difficult to protect their mental health. Those with a pre-existing mental health condition are also finding their symptoms heightened. Whilst staff have been furloughed or working from home there may have been an increase in demand for mental health support. With face-to-face discussions no longer practical, a MHFA needs to be contactable in other ways, whether that is through email, instant chat, a phone or video call. Businesses who actively support employee wellbeing and mental health are not only going to be able to build trust but create a more positive working environment. Providing employees with someone to talk to confidentially is a great step in removing the stigma surrounding mental health issues, and the start to providing a more open and honest culture where someone is not afraid to ask for help. Studies suggest that after the pandemic many more people will be struggling with their mental health. Employers can take the lead and begin to address the problem. The pandemic has further highlighted the importance of providing Mental Health First Aid.

Here at iHASCO employees can easily access a MHFA FAQ page on the company intranet, to help answer any queries surrounding the role of a Mental Health First Aider, and provide contact details. Our MHFAs regularly remind employees that they are there to support all staff, and send messages or use the monthly staff newsletter to provide wellbeing tips. COVID-19 has not prevented our MHFAs from carrying out their roles, and if anything they have been able to provide much needed support to employees at a difficult time.

Our Training

We offer 8 courses as part of our Mental Health & Wellbeing bundle:

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!

Mental Health and Wellbeing Courses
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