Mental Health First Aid – what’s that?
Updated: Jul 31, 2019
I’m always being asked what Mental Health First Aid is, so this short article will hopefully be useful to answer some questions.
We all have mental health, and just like our physical health, it can go wrong
When it does, it can be costly to everyone involved, including the employee, the employer and other family, friends and colleagues.
It’s worth remembering that 1 in 4 people in the UK will have a mental health problem at some point, and that includes you. I’ve met people from all walks of life who have been experiencing a mental health problem, so if you think it won’t happen to you, I can assure you that it could!
Mental Health is about the way we feel, think and act
We all move between feeling good, finding things hard and sometimes becoming ill, which amongst other things may lead to having time off work or affect our relationships.
It’s worth noting that this statement is true both for people with and without a diagnosed mental health condition. People with a diagnosed mental health condition can be feeling and doing well at work, just like people without a diagnosed condition can be finding things hard or can become ill and have time off.
The Stevenson/Farmer Review
The government’s 2017 review of mental health and employers found that:
Around 15% of people at work have an existing mental health condition
Poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year, due to lost productivity
The total annual cost to the UK economy is between £74 billion and £99 billion
When employers supported their workers’ mental health, these costs went down
The review recommended 6 core standards that all employers and organisations should put in place in their workplaces to ensure that their employees thrive. They are:
Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan
Develop mental health awareness among employees
Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling
Provide employees with good working conditions
Promote effective people management
Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing
The report also noted that as well as supporting the mental health of all employees, employers may need to provide more targeted support for some individuals who are struggling or ill, and potentially off work. You can read the full report here.
Stress and Mental Health
Whilst stress is not a mental health condition, prolonged stress can cause both physiological and psychological problems, including depression and anxiety. It can either cause or exacerbate both conditions.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) state that over 22 million work days are lost every year as a result of stress. It also states that
Employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by doing a written risk assessment and then acting on it
HSE Management Standards
The HSE Management Standards approach can be used to conduct this risk assessment. It covers the 6 key areas of work design that if not properly managed, are associated with poor health, lower productivity and increased accident and sickness absence rates.
The Management Standards are:
Demands – this includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment
Control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work
Support – this includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues
Relationships – this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour
Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles
Change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation
You can read the full HSE guidance here.
There are a range of mental health training courses out there, sometimes generically referred to as ‘Mental Health First Aid’. This generic terminology however hides some important differences. Whilst all courses will usually help to create a mentally health workplace in some way, they will normally have one or more of the following 3 main aims:
Aim 1 - Increase mental health awareness amongst staff
(Core Standard 2)
These courses may help employees to:
Understand what mental health is
Understand what stress and mental health problems are
Understand their own mental health and self-help strategies to maintain it
Aim 2 - Provide mental health champions, advocates and/or first aiders
(Core Standard 3)
These courses may help employees to:
Be a voice for good mental health in the workplace and overcome mental health stigma
Be able to identify employees who may be experiencing stress or poor mental health
Be able to sign-post employees who may be experiencing stress or poor mental health
Be able to manage their own mental wellbeing
Aim 3 – Mental health training for leaders and managers
(Core Standards 1-6)
These courses help leaders and managers to provide a mentally healthy workplace. This is usually achieved through a better understanding of:
Mental health conditions
Mental health at work
Mental health at work plans
Managing with mental health in mind
Supervising mental health first aiders
The majority of these courses are not regulated and are therefore are not on the Regulated Qualifications Framework although this is now starting to change. Sometimes these courses are labelled as ‘licensed’ courses, but they don’t usually lead to a nationally recognised, quality assured qualification.
Whilst mental health at work is a relatively new concept (when compared to first aid at work), mental health training can help an organisation to develop a mentally healthy workplace with positive benefits for all concerned.
If there are any questions that I haven’t answered, or you'd like to discuss mental health training for your organisation, please get in touch.