The increasing focus on our mental health is testament to how vital it is. Maintaining positive mental health contributes to living a healthy and fulfilling life. It helps us to maintain healthy relationships, friendships and stable working lives. It also prevents physical illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular conditions.
On the other hand, poor mental health affects our personal lives. It causes suffering, loneliness, isolation and shame – these cannot be measured. But if suicide is an indicator, this paints a grim picture. Sadly, every two hours someone in the UK takes their own life.
Employers are really honing in on initiatives they can implement in the workplace to aid positive mental health amongst their workers. One such initiative is the introduction of mental health first aiders. But what is the role of a mental health first aider and how can they help you?
What Is Mental Health First Aid?
Like regular first aid for physical injuries, mental health first aid is used to spot the initial signs and symptoms of mental ill health and to provide immediate support on a first aid basis.
The purpose of mental health first aid is to:
- Preserve life where a person may be at risk of harm to themselves or others
- Prevent the mental health issue from worsening
- Support recovery of good mental health, and
- Provide comfort to the person that is suffering
Mental health problems are different than other illness. Unlike giving physical first aid where you can easily see where someone is injured or simply just ask them where it hurts, identifying and assessing mental health problems is not so straightforward.
What Is A Mental Health First Aider?
Mental health first aiders are trained and qualified employees who volunteer to be on hand if a family member, friend or colleague needs support or is suffering from compromised mental health.
They complete a certified Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course that equips them with the knowledge and confidence needed to be able to recognise crucial warning signs of a mental health problem and to act immediately.
Qualified mental health first aiders may spot behavioural changes in colleagues who seem to need help. Employees may become withdrawn and start to work alone more. They may come to work unkept, where previously they were always smartly dressed or they may lose their temper more often, when before they were more easy-going. Having the skill to spot things before they get worse, can save lives.
The Role of The Mental Health First Aider
To put it simply, mental health first aiders are the first point of contact for an employee who is experiencing a mental health issue.
The mental health first aider role includes:
- Recognising the obstacles to good mental health
- Realising that anybody can drift towards poor mental health
- Providing first aid when it is needed, and
- Encouraging habits that support good mental health
Similar to physical first aid, mental health first aid training does NOT teach you how to give a diagnosis, treatment or therapy. Instead, it teaches you how to provide help until the crisis passes or a professional can take over.
Contact with someone suffering with mental health problems may be as simple as having a non-judgmental conversation – lending a friendly ear or getting appropriate professional help for them.
Seeking help or building healthier habits is up to the individual in most cases. The Mental Health First Aider cannot force change, they can only encourage and support it.
Who Can Train to Become A Mental Health First Aider?
Anyone can train up to become a mental health first aider. A family member, a friend, a co-worker, anyone dealing with the public. It can be you.
People who have a keen interest in mental health and wellbeing will naturally gravitate to the role. It is a voluntary role, so whoever goes for it must keep this in mind and have the time to be able to be on hand to support others.
If an employer decides to put together a team of mental health first aiders, they need to make sure volunteers are given the training, support and resources they need to be able to deliver. And who looks after the mental health of the mental health first aider? Supporting others who may be going through a tough time can have knock on effects on mental health first aiders, that’s why resources should be in place to take care of the volunteers too.
Why Organisations Need Mental Health First Aiders?
According to the Mental Health Foundation, a whopping 12.1% of UK GDP, around £225 billion, is attributed to workers who have suffered with mental health issues, so aside from the moral aspect of being human and caring for others, focusing on mental health is good for business too.
Here are some more benefits of mental health awareness in the workplace:
- Increased productivity
- Reduced accidents and incidents
- Better talent acquisition
- Reduced turnover
- A happier, healthier workforce
The Stigma Attached to Mental Health
With all the coverage and resources available today, it is unbelievable that there is still such a stigma surrounding our mental health. The stigma around Mental Health prevents many people from asking for help when they need it, so eliminating stigma is vital to supporting good mental health.
The role of the mental health first aider is to recognise that the stigma exists and to help stop employees from judging those who need mental health support in the workplace. This can be done by encouraging open, unbiased communication about mental health and educating others to avoid judgement.
Want to Know More about Becoming a Mental Health First Aider?
If you are interested in taking on the role of the mental health first aider in your organisation, Human Focus offers Mental Health First Aid training that provides learners with the knowledge they need to be a mental health first aider within their organisation.
If you are still unsure what they do, why not ask a colleague who has completed the qualification to explain the role of the qualified mental health first aider. They will be able to explain it in their own words and sometimes such information can be digested that bit easier when it is coming from a trusted workmate.
To find out more, you can also take a look at some of the other blogs on Human Focus, such as What Is Mental Health First Aid and Mental Health In The Workplace: Everything You Need To Know, or see if any of the other mental health courses that they offer appeal to you.