Introducing Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace

Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace

Why providing mental health first aid in the office is so important.

There is nothing more important than mental health. Some people tend to forget about this when they are working, believing that productivity and efficiency trump emotional wellbeing. But if you work yourself to the bone, mental health problems tend to arise. 

Mental health first aid is what you would need at that time.

What is mental health first aid?

Mental health first aid is the assistance you give someone who is developing or experiencing a mental health problem. Mental health first aid is given until the person suffering has received appropriate professional treatment or when the crisis is resolved. 

It can help people who are undergoing depression, anxiety, psychosis, substance abuse, eating disorders and gambling problems, to list a few. 

It can also help those who are experiencing a mental health crisis, such as suicidal thoughts and behaviors, self-harm, panic attacks, severe psychotic stress and aggressive behaviors.

Who can administer mental health first aid?

In 2000, Australia first introduced the universal Mental Health First Aid training program, which is now available in more than 25 countries and counting. Training is offered by accredited instructors who develop, evaluate and run courses.

Mental Health First Aid Officers (MHFA Officers) are employees of a company who have received accredited first aid training. It is commonplace for companies to appoint staff who are skilled and trained to provide mental health first aid for other employees at the office. Some companies have even made the appointment of MHFA Officers a workplace requirement

MHFA Officers are formally appointed and supported by their workplace and are the main point of contact for employees experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress. They are trained to provide initial informal support to other employees without the supervision of the human resources department. They usually complement formal support services, like employee assistance programs or in-house counseling programs.

MHFA Officers are not a substitute for professional support services. They are neither mediators in a dispute resolution mechanism nor replacements for human resources. They don’t fix mental health problems, like counselors or therapists. Instead, they offer initial support through non-judgemental listening and guidance, and empower and assist employees to seek further professional support elsewhere.

What does mental health first aid training entail?

Courses teach students how to use mental health first aid to help others, how to encourage someone to speak up and seek professional help for their mental health problems and how to provide mental health first aid for someone who is feeling suicidal.

Students are also told to identify the crucial warning signs and symptoms of mental health problems so that they can work out the time they should reach out and help. They are not taught to become professionals “problem-solvers,” but to be observant and vigilant of negative changes in a co-worker’s mood, habits and personality, which can be signs of a mental health problem.

What are the benefits of appointing mental health first aid officers?

Appointing an MHFA Officer is a clear way demonstrating that your company cares about your staff’s emotional and mental wellbeing. It also strengthens a supportive office culture and improves solidarity, retention and engagement within the workplace. Organizations that have mental health first aid programs in place reported that Officers have been able to provide valuable support to staff. They helped reduce the stigma associated with mental health and create a positive culture, where employees feel comfortable speaking openly about their problems and seeking professional healthcare. 

Header image courtesy of Unsplash

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