Why invest in a Mental Health First Aider?

XCD's Rachel Mudd recounts her MHFA training experience 

The importance of good mental health has never been at the forefront of our minds more than it is today.

Could be because of TV and big brands making a huge push to encourage talking and getting support, or because we’ve all been in and out of lockdown for over a year – either way, more people are opening up about their struggles.

The taboo

There’s still a taboo around words like ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’, let alone less common mental health issues, such as psychosis or schizotypal, and we’re probably all guilty of throwing around phrases such as ‘I’m stressed’ or ‘I have OCD’. But the stark reality is that 676 million people are affected by mental health issues worldwide, with 1 in 4 adults in England having been diagnosed with a mental illness.

That’s one person in four who will experience some form of mental health issue in any given year.

Not strong enough? Think of it like this – if there’s four adults in your household, one of them could be suffering with anxiety. When you’re out for dinner with three or more friends, one of you could have serious struggles with depression. Or when you’re on a Zoom call with three colleagues, one of them could be thinking about suicide.

That’s scary stuff.

Mental health at work

The good news is that we are starting to talk about it. For whatever reason, people are more confident addressing mental health issues and being non-judgmental and supportive towards others around the topic of mental health.

And workplaces are no different.

There’s growing weight behind the argument that having a Wellbeing Strategy or Mental Health Support benefit in an organisation is simply a duty of care. Studies by Mental Health First Aid England show that depression is a major cause of disability, absenteeism, presenteeism and productivity-loss among working-age adults. It can also be a compelling factor in health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and strokes.

There are so many reasons employers should be supporting their people and openly talking about this. But that’s not always easy.

Who takes ownership?

It’s not uncommon for HR to be the natural selection to take ownership of such a topic. And for many organisations that could be the right decision – but not necessarily for all.

At XCD, we identified the importance of doing more, and I jumped at the opportunity to head it up. I am Head of Marketing. Not the obvious choice, perhaps; but it is a topic close to my heart and I felt like I could help make a difference by helping start the process. So, I signed up to become a qualified Mental Health First Aider.

The short answer for who takes ownership is anyone. Especially if someone is passionate about the topic and truly understands the importance of it.

What I learned

The two-day intensive course (I undertook it with St. John’s Ambulance, accredited by Mental Health First Aid England), really opened my eyes to what we, as employers can be doing.

Not only did it give me insight into the world of mental health, the impact poor mental health can have and how to spot signs, it provided me with a huge library of amazing resources to share for a whole host of different concerns.

The key takeaway is that, as Mental Health First Aiders we are not there to diagnose. We are there to spot signs, to support individuals through listening empathetically and providing suitable resources, and we can help support line managers who have team members struggling with poor mental health.

I had great conversations with other delegates about what their organisations are doing, some of which we will be taking forward as part of our new Wellbeing Strategy:

  • Providing access to resources that promote mental and physical wellbeing
  • Advertising the availability of a Mental Health First Aider, and their role for our employees
  • Providing a Wellbeing Policy, to be clear about the support available and our commitment to our people’s wellbeing
  • Supporting our people through an Employee Assistance Programme
  • Supporting line managers with available resources and recommendations on adopting flexible working patterns

All of this activity will be tracked (in the case of non-confidential support) through our HR solution, meaning that our people can access resources and the Employee Assistance Programme at any time through self-service.

As a global organisation with all of our people working from home, it’s more important to us than ever to ensure we are supporting and guiding our employees to the resources they need, when they need them. This could be a 24/7 support line, face-to-face counselling, their GP, apps, books or simply their line manager.

We’re working hard to offer the best possible wellbeing support to our people, and if you’re interested, I would highly recommend getting a Mental Health First Aider in your organisation to support your teams.

Let’s break the taboo on mental health.

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