• Tim

Mental Health First Aid

Updated: Apr 26


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

Core Standards

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:

  1. Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan

  2. Develop mental health awareness among employees

  3. Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling

  4. Provide employees with good working conditions

  5. Promote effective people management

  6. 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:

  1. Demands – this includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment

  2. Control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work

  3. Support – this includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues

  4. Relationships – this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour

  5. Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles

  6. 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

  • 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.