Implementing Mental Health First Aid Programs in the Workplace

When viruses hit the workplace, we take immediate preventive measures. During pandemic influenza outbreaks (such as Swine Flu) the HSE advised employers to send employees home, encourage video-conferencing and to review working practices.

However, employers are slow to react to the emerging crisis of poor mental wellbeing in the workplace. Mental health issues cause 7.7% of all sickness and cost UK employers over £42bn each year.

In this guide, we’ll share all you need to implement an effective Mental Health First Aid program in your workplace.

Like physical first aid, this is a way to try and prevent mental health problems developing and support people in crisis and help them to receive the support they may need. 

Join the free email course:

  • Day 1: What does a mental health first aider do?
  • Day 2: How does a mental health first aider benefit the workplace?
  • Day 3: Who should become a mental health first aider?
  • Day 4: What will staff learn on a mental health first aid course?
  • Day 5: What Mental health First Aid courses are available?

What is the goal of a Mental Health First Aid Program?

The goal of an MHFA program is to promote and support good mental health. But what is good mental health?

Mental Health is defined by the World Health Organisation as a state of mental and psychological wellbeing where we can achieve our potential, cope with stresses and work productively. The change in mental health can be caused by workplace events, health changes or unrelated changes in life.

In the workplace, this typically looks like:

  • An employee is thriving and is largely able to work effectively,
  • An employee is struggling and unable to work effectively.

Irrespective of the cause, the goal of an MHFA program is to support willing employees to return to their thriving state of good mental health.

How does a Mental Health First Aid Program work?

A good MHFA program is preventative. Consider the scenario from an employees perspective below:

  1. The employee joins the company and is able to work productively as they largely have good mental health.
  2. Throughout the employee’s induction, they become aware of the link between mental health and productivity and what to do with they (or a colleague) experience a mental health issue.
  3. The employee notices the organisation has a culture of openness and acceptance. They participate in activities designed to support employee resilience, see mental health de-stigmatisation campaigns and notice colleagues speaking openly about issues.
  4. The employee is affected by personal, health or work stresses. This leads to worsening mental health and they seek support.
  5. The employee choses to share their mental health issue with a Mental Health First Aider.
  6. The employee and employer work together, choosing a reactive approach, such as therapy and access mental health professionals through occupational health.

If the preventative steps were not followed, the employee would not have chosen to share their mental health issue and could choose to leave the organisation.

From your perspective as a workplace administrator of an MHFA program, this could look like:

  1. Raise awareness of mental health issues and create an open culture of acceptance
  2. Run regular mental health events, aiming to de-stigmatise mental health issues and improve employee resilience
  3. Train managers and team members to be Mental Health First Aiders

What is a Mental Health First Aider?

The role of an mental health first aider is to help when someone is experiencing a mental health issue. This could be a developing mental health issue, an existing condition or an immediate mental health crisis.

Just like traditional first aid, Mental Health First Aiders are not taught to treat conditions but to give support until appropriate professional help can be found.

Traditional First AiderMental Health First Aider
Aims to preserve lifeAims to preserve life
To prevent deterioration of any injury or illnessTo provide support to prevent the mental health problem worsening
To promote healingTo promote recovery of good mental health
To provide comfort to a person who is ill, injured or distressedTo provide comfort to a person in distress
To promote understanding of mental health issues

Mental Health First Aiders can be trained by attending an appropriate course. It will provide individuals with:

  • The practical skills, knowledge and confidence to recognise the symptoms of mental health issues
  • Effectively support anyone experiencing mental distress
  • Provide information on how to guide those experiencing problems towards seeking appropriate professional help
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