Mental Health First Aiders Shouldn’t Just be a Tick Box Exercise

Mental health is such a prevalent issue within the workplace. It is estimated that 1 in 4 people in the UK suffer from a mental health disorder, resulting in 300,000 lost jobs and 127 million lost work hours.

According to official statistics, 67% of people would talk about their mental ill-health to their family, 63% would talk to their friends, 12% would talk to their work colleagues but only 2% would talk to HR. This is why mental health first aid training in the workplace is so important.

As an expert in the area, I have many thoughts on whether Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) should just a tick box exercise, or not. Last year’s caused much debate and has supplied evidence and concerns regarding the effectiveness of Mental Health First Aiders in the workplace. The bottom line of that report are the following two statements:

Principal Investigator Professor Avril Drummond, from the School of Health Sciences at The University of Nottingham, said: “We found examples of excellent practice in rolling out the mental health first aid training where there were clearly strategies in place to support staff who felt confident in their role. However, we also found examples where staff felt unsupported and where, for example, they had co-workers contacting them outside working hours: there were significant issues around lack of clarity with boundaries and potential safety concerns for the trained person.”

Followed by Duncan Spencer, Head of Advice and Practice at IOSH, who said: “Appointing staff in a volunteer capacity to support colleagues with mental health problems must be part of a bigger management system including preventative controls to remove or reduce risks.”

I have had a lot of experience seeing this first hand and observing companies rolling out the MHFA training with absolutely nothing further in place for the newly appointed first aiders. It is great that so many companies are investing in the training, however, it is very concerning how few of them have considered further support and aftercare for those that have been trained.

The next steps following MHFA training should involve creating your own Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). Consider the following:

  1. Seek advice and formulate a plan on how best to roll out and use the First Aiders for Mental Health effectively
  2. Compile or source materials to help your campaign internally
  3. Consider granting access to a Mental Health mentoring program
  4. 24/7 support lines
  5. Full access to therapists when needed
  6. Back up the MHFA training with courses designed for both senior management and people managers

Ahead of this, however, it is important to make sure the correct persons are selected to fill the Mental Health First Aider roles. A few considerations include whether the individual in question has a reputation for being an office gossip, as well as considering whether they have time to spend with colleagues and commit to the role. If their day-to-day role is to be at the other end of the phone all day to customers, chances are they won’t have the time needed to dedicate to a mental health first aider role.

Aside from providing a great team bonding experience, the mental health first aider training is proving to be vital training for the ongoing productivity of departments and, what seemed to be a tick box exercise has in many cases proven to be the best small investment of companies and a reason behind why so many are aiming to have at least 15% of their workforce trained.

Let's not forget why this training is so important, similarly, let’s not just go through the motions and get the MHFA training done just to tick a box. It’s great to post happy pictures and publicize the fact you have put training in place that prioritizes your employees’ well-being, but please ensure there is specific support in place the Mental Health First Aiders. What's more, this doesn’t need to cost anything or impact budgets but will have a significant impact on the success of these critical roles. 


Tim Ladd - https://www.red-umbrella.co.uk/

Red Umbrella work with companies large and small, charities, universities and premiership football clubs providing Mental Health First Aid training, line manager awareness training, bespoke workshops, and build your own mental health specific EAPs.

Red Umbrella is the only provider that includes help and advice on mental health first aider selection, internal promotion, 24/7 support a mentoring program and immediate access to therapists FREE of charge to all delegates on any of its training.

Red Umbrella has a passion for supporting the homelessness and aims to launch its Red Bus Project in 2020 http://www.redbuses.org/

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