August 25, 2020

What is a Mental Health First Aider?

We all know there’s still a stigma around mental health in the workplace. For many, it’s a taboo subject that we don’t talk about, with the expectation that it won’t impact upon our job if we keep quiet.

But it’s very obvious this approach doesn’t help anyone – neither the employee who has the issue, nor the company they work for.

With the figures of time lost due to mental health related issues hitting around 12.8 million working days in 2018/19, it’s clear that mental health can no longer be ignored.

So, can mental health first aiders help solve the problem? And what is a mental health first aider? Keep reading to find out.

What is a Mental Health First Aider?

Whilst a medical first aider helps take care of someone who is injured at work alongside their usual duties, a mental health first aider will be an employee’s first point of communication for any mental health related concern.

First and foremost, they are someone who an employee can talk to about any mental health issue. This can be an issue they have themselves or a concern they have about a fellow colleague.

Like a medical first aider, they will ensure the necessary steps are carried out to help the person involved and get further help if needed.

What About Training?

A mental health first aider does not have to be medically trained, but they will have had some form of training. In fact, there are many organisations that offer mental health first aider training. In normal circumstances, this would be a two-day in-person training course, but many are now being offered as online courses.

These courses are designed to give the first aider an insight into what mental health is. They will cover that everyone has mental health, either good or bad, and that normally, people are moving from one to the other in differing degrees. Mental health, just like our physical health, can move from being very good to very unwell depending on numerous outside factors.

What Does a Mental Health First Aider do?

Mental health first aiders encourage discussion about mental health to try to eliminate the stigma of having poor mental health. They also help everyone understand what good mental health looks like.

For example, employees with good mental health will:

  • Be motivated
  • Be productive
  • Meet deadlines
  • Have good attendance and punctuality
  • Enjoy good relationships with colleagues
  • Keep problems in perspective
  • Ask for help if they need it

Mental health first aiders also inform others of what signs to look for that may indicate someone is unwell. For example, employees who are struggling with their mental health might be:

  • Demotivated
  • Visibly anxious or distressed
  • Easily distracted
  • Having regular mood changes
  • Making uncharacteristic errors
  • Irritable
  • Working longer hours
  • Taking more sick leave than usual sickness absence
  • Showing anger or aggression
  • Sweating or trembling
  • Constantly feeling cold
  • Having headaches
  • Are often tearful

Mental health first aiders will share with your staff what to do if they think someone is unwell and the steps to take for early intervention. They’ll also talk about recovery from mental illness and how to look forward to recovery and return to work if necessary.

How Can a Mental Health First Aider Help Your Company?

If you have a mental health first aider in your company, this shows you take mental health seriously and wish to assist your employees should they have a problem.

It can help your employees to know there is someone who they can talk to in confidence about any issue they have, and someone who is not their manager. It’s been proven time and again that in many cases it just helps to talk to someone about the problem. This can, in many ways, prevent the issue from becoming more serious.

The reason why many people don’t talk about mental health at work is because historically, talking about mental health issues sometimes lead to discrimination and even unfair dismissal. Having a first aider shows that your company understands and empathises with all conditions of mental health, and helps employees feel more secure when opening up.

Having mental health first aiders can also take the pressure off your managers, as they may not feel entirely comfortable discussing mental health issues. It also gives them someone to turn to if they have a problem too.

In short, your mental health first aider is your support mechanism when dealing with mental health issues in your workplace. Can you really do without them?

Further Reading

If your business is struggling with absence due to a decline in mental health, read our blog post for help and advice: The Mental Health Crisis and How to Reduce Employee Absence

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About the author

Elaine Pritchard

About the author

Elaine Pritchard

Elaine has a wealth of knowledge in producing contracts, training materials and other documentation as well as training other consultants. She piloted a scheme whereby she went on-site to act as a client’s HR Manager two days per week, whilst the post-holder was on maternity leave. Elaine also previously ran her own retail business for seven years, employing four people. Elaine is a field based consultant for Moorepay and provides on-site HR and Employment Law advice, consultancy and training services to our clients.

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