Why your business needs mental health first aiders

  • Health & Safety
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Gavin Scarr-Hall - Director of Health & Safety at Peninsula

Gavin Scarr Hall, Director of Health and Safety

(Last updated )

While appointing mental health first aiders (MHFaiders) isn’t a legal requirement, you do have a duty of care to take steps to support your employee’s health, safety and wellbeing at work. And with as many as one in four people experiencing a mental health issue each year (Mind), it is highly recommended that your business has mental health first aiders on hand to support employees who might need it.

An MHFaider can be any employee who has had specialist mental health training. This puts them in a confident position to support someone who might be experiencing poor mental health or emotional distress.

You would already have first aiders on hand to help staff with physical illnesses or accidents at work. Well, a mental health first aider does the same for anyone who might be dealing with a mental health issue.

What exactly does a mental health first aider do?

The fundamental role of a mental health first aider is to support mental wellbeing across your workforce. And to help reduce the stigma around mental health issues.

As a first point of contact for an employee, your MHFaider is there to step in and provide support. They might be the ones reaching out to employees or they might have employees reaching out to them.

MHFaiders should signpost staff towards professional support inside and outside of your business. And they should work to create a safe, non-judgmental environment. So, your staff feel encouraged to speak openly about mental health.

Note: mental health first aiders are not qualified counsellors. They’re there to listen, reassure, and offer support. And they should always be guiding employees towards the experts.

When would a mental health first aider step in to support an employee?

MHFaiders learn how to recognise the signs that someone might be experiencing a mental health issue.

Telltale signs might include performance issues, poor attendance or emotional outbursts at work. An employee who is withdrawn and quiet might also raise concerns.

Unfortunately, however, mental health issues often don’t present themselves as we might expect. Hence, why so many people experience issues that go undetected and unsupported.

This makes it all the more important to make sure that mental health support is a priority. So, always make it clear to your staff that support is readily available.

How do you become a mental health first aider?

To qualify as a mental health first aider, your employee will need to complete a mental health first aid training course.

MHFA England is internationally recognised as a leading MHFA training provider. If your employee wants to become an MHFaider, you can enrol them onto MHFA England’s full two-day course. They’ll then be qualified to give mental health first aid support.

According to the MHFA England website, this training course teaches people how to identify, understand and help those who may be experiencing a mental health issue.

Why have mental health first aiders at work?

Sometimes, your employee might be experiencing an issue they don’t feel comfortable talking to their manager about.

We have to be mindful that mental health is a sensitive topic. Some employees might worry that talking to an employer about an issue could affect their job security. Or it might influence whether they get a promotion or not.

And while managers should always take steps to help reassure staff and help them feel comfortable opening up, it’s still not easy to talk about.

But by having MHFaiders, you give your staff people to talk to who might not be managers. And encouraging more people to speak up only helps to break away some of that stigma.

MHFaiders also have a responsibility not to break confidentiality. That’s unless they have reason to believe there is any risk of harm to the person they’re speaking with or to anyone else. Only then would they have an obligation to share personal details with the authorities.

Reap the benefits of EAP

Mental health first aiders provide that initial support to your employees. But signposting to the experts is essential.

That’s what makes having an employee assistance programme (EAP) so valuable. This is a third-party, confidential service you can offer to staff in your business.

Peninsula’s EAP service gives employees 24-hour support and access to:

  • Wellbeing tools – your staff can access an online health portal and app filled with self-help resources.
  • Face to face counselling – your employee can have in-person sessions with a professional therapist.
  • Phone counselling – your employee can speak to an expert via live-chat, email or over the phone.
  • Medical advice – your employee can use a 24-hour medical helpline to speak to a trained nurse any time.

If you have any questions about how an EAP works, tap below to speak to a Health & Safety expert directly.

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