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.
This 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 mental health and how it impacts their wellbeing. 
When people think of first aid training, their mind often goes straight to training involving physical health. A physical first aider is a priority for any workplace, so why shouldn't a mental health first aider be too?
Employee wellbeing is also about mental health, and this has never been more apparent with the demands of the modern world. The aim of MHFA is to provide training to help improve people's understanding of mental health and how to help people feel healthier. There are many first aid courses that offer training on how to support employee mental health, and how it impacts their overall wellbeing. 
The health and wellbeing of your staff should be an absolute priority.  MHFA teaches participants important skills to help any employees that may be struggling with their mental health. Having an employee that has undergone a MHFA course is an essential part of a modern workforce to help maintain employee health.
Having someone trained in mental health first aid shows staff that your company cares about them, and also helps to promote methods of self-care and create a more healthy working environment and boost employee wellbeing.

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.

Having an employee that is trained in MHFA demonstrates a company’s awareness, and recognises that staff suffering with mental health is a very real, and common thing. Managing your staff's wellbeing is important in order to ensure employees stay healthy, happy and motivated.

There's growing weight behind the argument that having a wellbeing strategy implemented into the workplace, or Mental Health Support benefits in an organisation is simply a duty of care. It shows that the employer cares about the health of their employees and that they see the of value employee wellbeing. 

Studies by Mental Health First Aid England show that mental-ill health such as 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.

Work-related stress is a common cause of poor mental health and something that often negatively impacts staff wellbeing. It can also worsen pre-existing mental health conditions. Stress in the workplace can increase anxiety, depression and a whole host of other health problems, including physical health issues. In order to improve employee's mental health at work, it is important to first be able to understand the triggers. 

Creating a company culture that prioritises its staff wellbeing by promoting a good work-life balance is key to reducing stress and creating healthier working environment. 

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. Staff wellbeing is a shared responsibility. We should all care about the health of our co-workers as a healthier team means a better functioning team. Especially if someone is passionate about the topic and truly understands the importance of it. 

What is the role of a Mental Health First Aider?

Mental health first aid inside the workplace is about ensuring staff feel they can seek out help for their mental health have the right support available to them. Simply put, it is about taking care of your staff and their health, and an employer plays an important role in listening to their employees and providing options for support.

The role of a mental health first aider is to provide a first point of contact for employee mental health, and to be an advocate for positive change regarding the wellbeing of employees. 

An employee that is trained in mental health first aid can set up and develop employee wellbeing strategies and employee wellbeing programs to help manage any ill-health in the workplace. For example, by teaching methods of self care, mindfulness, or even the driving home the importance of taking a break can provide a huge boost to staff wellbeing company-wide.

A wellbeing team is an excellent way a mental health first aider can try to tackle mental ill-health in the workplace. It has been proven time and time again that an employee wellbeing team can provide an important stress relief for staff, and help improve employee engagement and productivity. 

A first aider's role is to help create a workplace that promotes openness and awareness of mental health. By talking about employee wellbeing, it will encourage more staff to come forward with their feelings and issues. If there is the appropriate support in the form of an MFHA, any issues that staff are experiencing can be tackled effectively.

MHFA is all about spotting the signs early on. If someone is able to recognise any changes in their behaviour, such as a sudden drop in productivity or morale, it could be a sign of someone struggling with their mental health. Spotting these signs means action can be taken quickly before it worsens and begins affecting their health to greater degrees.

A mental health first aider is also able to provide advice to line managers on how to approach staff that are struggling with mental health, as well as helping employee's to learn how to help their colleagues.

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 MHFA 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 not counsellors. 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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