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June 14, 2021

Why every workplace needs a mental health first aider

It is always important to reflect on the importance of taking care of those around us, both at home and in our day to day lives, and at work. In a recent study on workplace wellbeing by the charity Mind, 52% of people reported experiencing poor mental health at work, whilst only 52% of this number reported disclosing their mental health issues to their employer. This is a worrying statistic, as it suggests that about a quarter of employees have at some point suffered in silence whilst struggling with their mental health at work.

In their Workplace Wellbeing Index report, Mind explain the importance of creating ‘a culture where poor mental health is not stigmatised and employees and managers both feel supported to create and maintain positive wellbeing.’ It is important for everyone in the organisation to be able to talk openly and without fear of judgment or negative consequences. In order for this to be possible, however, it is essential that every organisation has at least one employee with a strong awareness of mental health issues, and who knows how to listen and respond effectively to help co-workers who may be experiencing mental health problems.

For employees struggling with their mental health at work, it can feel incredibly isolating and disheartening to feel that they are unable to share their feelings and ask for help from their boss or colleagues. There is still significant stigma in the UK and a lack of awareness and understanding surrounding those with mental health issues, for example over a third of the public wrongly believe that a person with a mental health issue is likely to be violent. These kinds of pervasive stigmas are particularly worrying as they can negatively affect the likelihood of those experiencing mental health issues to feel comfortable to talk about their issues in settings such as the workplace.

Employees may have several different reasons for feeling afraid or unable to discuss their mental health at their organisations. Some may be concerned that sharing their issues may have an adverse effect on the way people perceive them, and may even damage their ability to progress at work. Some suffer in silence simply because they do not have a good enough understanding or awareness of what they themselves are going through to be able to ask for help. Some may fear the reactions of those they choose to speak to about their issues.

Disclosing an issue to a colleague who is dismissive or indifferent can be extremely disheartening. Equally, those who offer well-meaning but badly thought-out advice or who rush in to try to ‘fix’ a suffering colleague can present an equal risk in terms of perpetuating or worsening mental health issues. It can be really hard to know how to get it right when it comes to supporting those with mental health issues in the workplace. That’s where Mental Health First Aiders come in…

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what is a mental health first aider?

A Mental Health First Aider is a member of an organisation who has carried out Mental Health First Aid England accredited training and goes on to volunteer to become a point of contact for anyone at their organisation who may be experiencing distress or mental health problems.

Mental Health First Aiders are able to:

  • Notice and identify the warning signs of a variety of different mental health issues
  • Understand factors affecting mental health
  • Listen to colleagues without judgment, and be supportive
  • Sign-post colleagues to mental health services and support
  • Provide Mental Health First Aid to a colleague in crisis.

how a mental health first aider can help.

Although a Mental Health First Aider is not a trained counsellor or therapist, they are able to spot the signs of poor mental health in their colleagues, and are trained in the best ways to approach a co-worker who may be in crisis. If a colleague is suffering, but is afraid or unable to mention this to the people around them, a Mental Health First Aider is likely to be able to notice this and offer support in a way that feels comfortable and safe. If an employee is not in a position to seek out support for themselves, a Mental Health First Aider can provide advice and ideas as to services that they can turn to for therapy or other kinds of support.

For those who are keen to talk about the problems they are facing at work but unsure as to the best avenue for this, having a Mental Health First Aider in the workplace can provide a clear point of contact for starting conversations about mental health.

Mental Health First Aiders can liaise with the management of their organisations to make sure that the company’s mental health policy is carried out and adhered to. They contribute to an open and non-judgmental workplace culture, encompassing a good amount of understanding of mental health and how it can affect employees as well as helping to remove the stigma from mental health issues by sharing an understanding of how and why these problems can arise.

It can be a huge relief for employees to have someone to talk to in their time of need, and having these conversations frequently in the workplace can help contribute to a healthy working environment where employees feel safe and supported. On the whole, having a Mental Health First Aider in your workplace can have a huge positive impact when it comes to employee happiness and wellbeing.

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If you are interested in training one or more of your employees or team members as a Mental Health First Aider, or if you would like to become one yourself, take a look at the Mental Health First Aid England accredited courses we provide. We offer both face-to-face and e-learning options. Click the link to learn more about these courses.

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