Do we need mental health first aiders at work?

Whilst there are legal requirements around the presence of a qualified first aider in the workplace, the training of mental health first aiders is becoming increasingly common.

As it’s accepted that mental and physical health are two sides of the same coin, it makes a lot of sense that employers are looking to do more to support their employees’ wellbeing.

According to statistics collated by Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA), at any given time, 1 in 6 working-age adults have symptoms associated with mental ill health and mental ill health is responsible for 72 million working days lost, costing £34.9 billion each year.

Even though one in four of us experience mental health issues each year, many of us are still unsure about how to support friends or colleagues, or even know how to take care of our own mental health. A fear around the topic remains.

MHFA are one of many organisations who now run mental health first aid courses in the workplace. They train participants to recognise the first signs of mental ill health, to offer a non-judgemental ear and to help those with a concern access further support. 

They hope to reduce the stigma around mental health, to reach a place where people feel that they can open discussion and seek support freely.

Importantly, those undertaking the training are not expected to act as therapists. Instead the training equips you with the confidence to “listen, reassure and respond”. 

A friend of mine who had the opportunity to undertake mental health first aider training said, “It made me feel more comfortable about broaching the topic with people I don’t know closely and took away the fear of saying the wrong thing or offending someone. I also learnt that mental health can go up and down, and that it doesn’t need to stop someone living a healthy or fulfilling life if dealt with appropriately.”

Interestingly, research carried out by Mind highlighted work as the biggest cause of stress in people’s lives, surpassing even debt and financial problems. Many of us spend at least a third of our time at work but what action can we take to improve our wellbeing in the workplace?

The Mind website is packed with resources for both employees and employers. Tips for employees suggest making the most of lunch breaks by organising group activities (if possible due to social distancing) or listening to relaxing music or your favourite mood-boosting tracks. Writing a to-do list at the end of the day can help clear your mind for the next day ahead.

Easy to implement actions for employers include ensuring that work environments are suitable for the task, so you need to consider noise, temperature and light levels. Where possible involve employees in the planning of their workload and set reasonable, agreed upon deadlines.

Will mental health first aid training in the workplace become a legal requirement in the not-too-distant future? Perhaps a mandatory regulation would be the best way to fast-track a normalisation around mental health at work.

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