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What is Mental Health First Aid?


Mental health is not fixed. It is always moving. You know this instinctively – some days you may feel great, a world-beater. But what about a rainy Monday morning? Things can start looking down pretty quickly.

While everybody’s mental health is different, it’s important to remember that we all go through these rough patches. Sometimes we may struggle to cope with stress, anxiety, or depression. We may have diagnosed mental health disorders, that worsen due to a hard situation.

We may simply find ourselves completely worn out from the day-to-day.

When these rough patches go on for too long, or when find we are unable to pull out of them on our own, we need help. But we often don’t realise we need it, or we don’t know how to ask. This is where Mental Health First Aid comes in.

Mental health first aid training is designed to teach individuals how to identify, manage, and ultimately preserve the life of a person who is suffering from a mental health crisis. Those who have received training understand how to spot when someone is dealing with an urgent problem, and what to do. For instance, how to react, if someone you know is at risk of suicide.

But mental health first aid is not just for emergencies. It is designed to offer support for those that are having trouble dealing with less urgent, but difficult periods.

It also teachers first aiders to use a preventative approach to mental health. By encouraging and building a supportive and positive culture around mental health, workplaces and communities help each other. A positive culture lets everyone know that if issues due come up, it is okay to seek help. This helps to identify problems and find solutions together, before they worsen.

The Foundation of Mental Health First Aid

Mental Health First Aid was first launched in Australia in 2001. It was founded by Betty Kitchener, a nurse specialising in health education, and Anthony Jorm, a mental health literacy professor. Since then, Mental Health First Aid has spread to all corners of the world.

A wide range of organisations, including universities and businesses, have adopted the strategies of mental health first aid and trained their own first aiders with positive results.

The mental health first aid strategy is to teach the practitioner how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders.

It also introduces participants to the warning signs of the onset of poor mental health, the possible detrimental impact of mental stress, how to approach someone suffering from a mental health crisis, and a list of common treatments to help mitigate it.

Most of us are aware of the existence of mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and addictions. But, at the same time, we would be hard-pressed to identify the warning signs of each individual illness, much less how to treat them.

Mental Health First Aid equips trainees with this knowledge. It provides concrete tools for helping those suffering from mental illness. And it gives first aiders the tools and knowledge to direct them towards professional help and support.

Why Do We Need Mental Health First Aiders?

Mental health is a growing concern for employers, as well as individuals. It’s estimated that around 25% of people experience a mental health issue of some kind each year. Mixed anxiety and depression is the most common issue affecting around 8% of the population, followed by generalised anxiety disorder at 6% and PTSD at 4%.

On a macro level, mental health issues have a massive impact. Mental health disorders are one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. They are also the leading cause of sickness absence in the workplace. There are some 70 million work days lost each year in the UK due to mental health issues. This amounts to a cost of £2.4 billion to employers.

On an individual level, these issues make performing normal, everyday activities extremely difficult and reduces the quality of life, both personally and professionally. The cost of mental health illness can be direct, such as someone paying for professional help; or indirect, such as the cost from lost work and social and educational opportunities.

Despite this, many of those struggling, often do not seek the help they need. This may be due to a fear of being stigmatised for having a disorder or for needing help. They may also be unaware that help is available. They may not even be aware of how their mental health impacts their lives.

It’s for this reason that Mental Health First Aid is so critical, as it enables those with training to help those who need it, maximising support and reducing suffering.

What is the Job of a Mental Health First Aider?

The role of qualified mental health first aider isn’t to replace a professional psychologist or health professional. Just as a traditional first aider won’t perform surgery on someone who is gravely injured, a mental health first aider won’t offer therapy or prescriptions.

Instead, they act as a frontline responder; the first person on the scene.

Mental health first aiders are taught how to identify risk factors and warning signs for mental health and addiction concerns. After identifying someone who is potentially struggling, first aiders are trained on how to approach the individual with sensitivity and guide them to getting the help they need.

Depending on the extent of their training, they discuss mental health with the individual, provide them with some basic advice, and point them towards professional resources that can help them to sustainably manage their disorders.

Within an organisation or company, a first aider may act as a point of contact between the organisation or company and colleagues who are struggling. A first aider also encourages anyone struggling to look for practical solutions if applicable and to take up habits that support a mentally healthier lifestyle.

The steps of mental health first aid look like this:

  • Approach the person in distress
  • Assess the situation
  • Decide on urgency
  • Listen non-judgmentally to the person’s problems
  • Provide support
  • Encourage getting help
  • Encourage good mental health habits

Who Should Study Mental Health First Aid?

Mental Health First Aid is a great skill for anyone who wants to improve their awareness of mental health, but it can be especially useful in the workplace.

Courses such as Mental Health Awareness training are suggested for:

  • All employees, working in any workplace environment, globally
  • All business owners, management teams, and supervisors working in any workplace environment, globally

Every business or organization should have some sort of Mental Health First Aid or Mental Health Awareness training in place. Having employees and managers equipped to deal with mental health problems will benefit both your workforce and your company.

Not only does it generate trust in your workforce by demonstrating to your employees that you have their well-being in mind, but it improves productivity by having happier workers who take fewer sick days and suffer from less burnout.

How to Support Good Mental Health in Your Own Workplace?

Good mental health in the workplace and strong management go hand in hand. There is ample evidence that workplaces with high levels of mental wellbeing are more productive, whereas workplaces with high levels of mental health disorders suffer from lower productivity, profits and employee morale.

With that in mind, there are a number of steps that companies can take in order to foster a good mental health environment in the workplace:

  • Find ways to demonstrate that mental health at work is an organisational priority
  • Support a working culture that is compassionate towards mental health
  • Discourage any stigmatisation of mental health issues or treatment
  • Support good mental health habits, such as mindfulness and exercise regimes
  • Conduct surveys to assess the mental well-being of your staff
  • Use survey data to plan and implement better workplace policies

Provide mental health training, such as Mental Health First Aid and Mental Health Awareness

Mental Health During Covid-19

It’s no secret that the Covid pandemic has been extraordinarily stressful on people all over the world, both physically and mentally.

Between the fear of losing a loved one, not being able to work, and being socially isolated, the effects of the lockdown and pandemic have been devastating to the collective mental health of societies.

Now more than ever being able to recognise and treat mental health illness is a crucial skill that can be used to foster a healthy and supportive community, both in the workplace but also at home.

Human Focus offers a ProQual-certified Mental Health First Aid Awareness course, that can be completed completely online. Mental health first aid online training teaches ways to understand and think about mental health, the signs of specific mental health disorders, how to give mental health first aid, and how to support better mental health in your work or community.

Along with Mental Health First Aid, Human focus also offers a Mental Health Resilience course and Mental Health Awareness Training as general training to understand ways to improve mental health and overcome mental health challenges.

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