The case for training mental health first aiders in your organisation

Mental health first aid 2
HR / Managers

The case for training mental health first aiders in your organisation

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Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) was first introduced in 2000 and has since gained global support for its effectiveness in offering early intervention and support for those with mental health issues. MHFA programs have become integral to many companies that want to build a supportive culture that prioritises employee wellbeing.

In the UK, over 500,000 individuals have been trained as mental health first aiders in more than 20,000 companies. But how have these programmes developed over the last twenty years and are companies doing enough to nurture and support mental health first aiders they have trained?

Understanding the role of mental health first aiders

Mental health first aiders are individuals trained to recognise and respond to mental health issues in the workplace. They play a crucial role in offering initial support, providing a non-judgmental listening ear, and guiding their colleagues to appropriate professional help when needed. While they are not a replacement for mental health professionals, MHFAs are often the first point of contact for those struggling with mental health challenges in the workplace.

In the UK, there are no strict legal requirements that mandate organisations to have MHFAs on staff. However, several pieces of legislation and guidelines emphasise the importance of promoting mental wellbeing in the workplace:

  • Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

This places a general duty on employers to ensure the health, safety, and wellbeing of their employees, and includes both physical and mental wellbeing. While it does not explicitly mention mental health first aid, it underscores the importance of promoting mental health support within the workplace.

  • Equality Act 2010

This requires employers to make reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities, which can include mental health conditions. Having first aiders available can be seen as a proactive measure to meet this requirement by providing support to individuals experiencing mental health issues.

  • HSE Management Standards for Work-Related Stress

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK has established Management Standards for Work-Related Stress, which provide guidance to employers on identifying and managing stress in the workplace. Having mental health first aiders can be a part of an organisation’s strategy to address work-related stress and mental health issues.

Best practices for mental health for support

The organisations that do the best job of creating mentally healthy workplaces and support mental health first aiders and champions in their roles go beyond the basics:

  • Comprehensive basic training and certification: Delivering professional and accredited training at the outset, equipping mental health first aiders with the skills and knowledge needed to recognise and respond to mental health issues in the workplace.
  • Regular refresher training: Being a mental health first aider and champion can be a challenging job. It’s advisable that you refresh their skills and knowledge every two years to stay up-to-date with the latest developments in support.

Wellness Cloud offers both of these training courses to all organisations, whether existing clients or not. To find out more click here.

  • Emotional support: Mental health first aiders may encounter challenging situations and emotions in their role. Employers should provide MHFAs with access to emotional support and supervision, such as debriefing sessions, to help them process their experiences and maintain their own mental wellbeing.
  • Clear role definition: Employers should clearly define the role and responsibilities of MHFAs within the organisation. This includes outlining when and how employees should approach MHFAs for support, ensuring that their role is understood and respected by all.
  • Allocated time and resources: Employers should allocate adequate time and resources for MHFAs to fulfil their responsibilities, which may involve time away from their regular duties to respond to colleagues in need or attend training and meetings.
  • Non-discrimination: Employers should ensure that mental health first aiders and champions don’t face any discrimination or negative consequences for performing their role, to create a safe and supportive environment for them.
  • Promotion and awareness: Employers should actively promote the presence of MHFAs in the workplace, making all employees aware of their role and how to seek support when needed.

Creating a supportive workplace culture

Creating a supportive workplace culture is integral to the success of mental health first aiders and champions. When we look at some of the top-performing businesses in this area, we see a few key activities common across all of them:

  • They implement wellbeing initiatives that go beyond MHFAs, such as offering counselling services, stress management programs, and promoting a healthy work-life balance.
  • They have Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), providing confidential counselling and support services to all employees, in addition to mental health champions.
  • They use regular periodic assessments to determine the mental health needs of the workforce.
  • They have a deliberate diversity of mental health champions, helping to address the needs of different employees, including factors like age, gender, and background.
  • They promote Mental Health Champions or ambassadors in addition to MHFAs to promote a supportive culture.
  • They offer mental health training and awareness for all employees, not just MHFAs, creating a culture of understanding and support. This can take the form of drop-in sessions, webinars, meetings, or simply providing a wide range of materials to help educate and inform – all of which Wellness Cloud can help with.

Leading by example

The most successful organisations in fostering a mentally healthy workplace lead by example. They engage senior leadership in promoting mental wellbeing, setting a powerful example for the entire organisation. This then helps them be transparent about their commitment to mental health and the support available to employees.

They also communicate openly about mental health, reducing the stigma and creating a safe space for employees to seek help, and tend of offer flexible work arrangements to support work-life balance and reduce stress.

Finally, they don’t rest on their laurels. MHFA is not just a box-ticking exercise. They continuously monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of mental health initiatives, making adjustments as needed, and deploy deeper and broader services into their business to meet a diverse range of needs.