What is mental health first aid? What role does it occupy in the workplace? In a time where mental health is beginning to be seen as equally important to physical health, companies are looking for ways to support their employees’ wellbeing.
This need for mental health support in the workplace has massively increased with the pandemic, potentially leading to many more people than before struggling with mental ill health. A great way this can be done is through the introduction of Mental Health First Aiders.
What is mental health first aid?
When you think of conventional (or physical) first aid, you would probably consider it to be the treatment given to an individual for either small scale injuries or ailments, or as the immediate aid given to someone until professional help can be obtained.
Mental health first aid is no different. When the programme was first created in 2000, in Canberra Australia, its aim was to increase the reach of conventional first aid to encompass immediate or initial mental health support. I feel extremely fortunate that my workplace introduced this at the start of the year, and that I was able to complete the training before lock-down began.
Though completing the training does not make you a qualified mental health professional (much like physical first aid training does not make you a doctor), it does teach you to identify and support individuals in ‘crisis’ situations. This term can include anything from somebody experiencing depression, panic attacks/anxiety, psychosis, and even suicidal thoughts.
You are trained in how to approach an individual in crisis, and direct them towards suitable resources and organisations. Additionally, the courses teach you how to discuss mental health in a non-judgemental and supportive way; this is especially crucial in the event of an individual experiencing and discussing mental ill health for the first time, where they may not know about the help that is available to them.
The most important part of the training though, is learning how to support your own mental health in order to better help others. This is a vital skill for anyone to learn, but especially those wishing to help and support others; after all, “you cannot pour from an empty cup“.
The role of good mental health in the workplace
Regardless of a company’s function, they no doubt all have employees in one form or another. It is therefore important that any company prioritises the health of their workers and especially their mental health. From a business/profit viewpoint, it is hugely beneficial to ensure that all workers are mentally and physically well, as that way they can carry out their roles to the best of their ability.
However, on a more human level, I believe that companies have a certain duty of care to their staff beyond whatever they might gain from their workforce being fit and well – especially given the massive impact of the coronavirus pandemic on people’s lives. Most of us will find they spend a huge portion of their lives at work, meaning it should really be a place they feel comfortable going to, and supported while there.
Though workplace mental health first aiders cannot offer treatment or diagnosis recommendations, they can provide helpful resources (such as helplines and organisations to contact), as well as simply giving people a recognised point of contact to reach out to when they’re struggling.
They can also assist those in more senior positions to implement strategies to supports teams and individuals; this could be something as simple as a weekly social lunch for workers to either just interact with each other, or as a low-pressure way to speak to a workplace mental health first aider.
How to become a workplace mental health first aider
If you wish to do the training yourself, a great place to start is by heading to the Mental Health First Aid England website, where you can sign up for courses either in person or online. However, if you want to look into doing it through your company, talk to your manager about whether this is a course they already offer to pay for. If that’s not an option, look into the possibility of them supporting you through it.
Another route could be discussing with your Human Resources team about the training; this way it could become something that gets offered to workers throughout the company, meaning even more people can become qualified to help out.
Having done the training myself, the skills taught have helped me navigate the past few months, and allowed me to better support those around me. I think it is extremely important that more companies consider supporting employees who want to take workplace mental health first aid training.
Having good mental wellbeing and support through both crisis situations and everyday problems is as important as being physically healthy, so why shouldn’t it be treated as equally important in the workplace?
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