Mental Health First Aiders: a positive step towards a healthier workforce

5 min read | Hannah Pearsall | Article | People and culture Staff engagement

Mental Health First Aiders

Did you know that one in six people experience  challenges with their mental health in the workplace? What about the fact that 12 billion working days are lost every year to anxiety and depression? Taking care of your employees’ wellbeing is more than just the right thing to do: it’s also a matter of time, money, and resources.

There are many steps organisations can take to cultivate a kind and supportive culture around their teams’ mental health, from educating the workforce on how to combat burnout and stress, to providing safe spaces for confidential discussions with their colleagues and bosses. One initiative you might consider adopting is setting up and training a group of Mental Health First Aiders – a handful of empathetic and engaged staff who are passionate about wellbeing.

The Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course teaches passionate volunteers how to identify, understand and help someone who may be going through a challenging time due to their mental health. Many organisations invest in this training to bolster awareness of mental illnesses, encourage communication about these topics, reduce stigma in the workplace and empower volunteers to signpost their colleagues towards useful resources or coping mechanisms.

Here, we look at how you can successfully set your organisation up with a team of mental health first aiders, and the difference it can make.

Step 1: Choose the right people 

Don’t just choose managers or directors to undergo the MHFA training, and don’t only select those who have lived experience of poor mental health. Ensure that you nominate people who are: approachable and can maintain confidentiality; want to learn more about mental health; easily contactable; have managerial support to commit to the time required; represent diversity within your workforce.  

Step 2: Get your leadership team on board 

Setting an example is key to cultivating a culture of support, health and happiness, so make sure that your senior leadership team are aware of the training taking place and are happy to support it. If possible, as well as being advocates for the programme, you should also consider having some of your leadership staff trained up, too.

Step 3: Promote it clearly and continuously

Inform your workforce about what mental health first aiders do and who they should contact if they need support. Provide clear, regular communication about it, including on posters, internal emails, newsletters and within email signatures.

Step 4: Provide ongoing support 

Successfully training your volunteers is just the beginning. A successful MHFA plan will involve getting your team together on a regular basis to reflect, upskill, and talk about ways they could better support their colleagues. It’s also an opportunity to check in on how they’re coping, and to see if they require any additional support themselves.

Step 5: Remember it’s just the start 

MHFA training is a good step towards building a kind and supportive workplace environment, but it’s crucial to bear in mind that it won’t fix everything. Your strategy around mental health should include a variety of other pillars, such as: encouraging regular breaks, creating a culture that allows staff to speak openly to their managers about their struggles, providing education around common challenges and how to cope with them, and investing in a scheme such as  an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).

What are the benefits? 

Around one in four people in the UK will experience some form of mental illness each year, so having qualified mental health first aiders in your team could help to lessen the strain on these individuals. In addition to that, research has shown that mental illness costs UK businesses around £35 billion every year, due to the need for sickness absence, the knock-on effect on productivity, and staff replacement fees. Empowering your workforce to look after one another won’t be a fix-it-all solution, but it’s a positive step towards creating a better tomorrow for everyone.

If you’d like to learn more about a variety of topics relating to mental health, check out our free My Learning platform, where you can access hundreds of courses.


About this author

Hannah Pearsall, Head of Wellbeing, Hays UK&I

Hannah has over 20 years of recruitment experience across a number of business areas, including construction and property, technology, engineering, energy, social care, human resources and procurement. She is now the Head of Wellbeing at Hays and leads on the design, development, implementation and delivery of a holistic and evolving wellbeing strategy for the UK and Ireland.

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