Mental health first-aid at work

The House of Commons had been due to debate Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) last Wednesday (19th December) and specifically whether there should be a requirement on employers to provide mental health first-aid training, as there is for physical first-aid. Unfortunately the debate has been postponed to an indeterminate date in the New Year.

This could be an excellent opportunity to improve mental health literacy at work. It can be about starting conversations that otherwise may not have taken place – breaking the silence enforced by stigma. Even just having the names and faces of mental health first-aiders on the first-aid noticeboard, can help make mental health more acceptable.

Often in workshops, when I ask what’s the first think you think of when you think of mental health? invariably the first answers are negative such as ‘depression’ or ‘schizophrenia’ or even ‘Victorian asylums’ rather than a positive view like this from WHO:

  • …a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community

Mental health first-aiders are not counsellors, psychotherapists or psychiatrists, but rather informed companions, sharing an understanding of the workplace, and mental health experience. And they can only provide ‘first-aid’, not the equivalent of expecting someone to fix a broken leg – a profound fracture of the mind.

They are there to take charge and get help in a moment of crisis, or simply apply an emotional plaster, with TLC.

However, they do need to be part of organization’s management approach, so that the governing mind of the organization acknowledge and recognise the extent of issues, even if anonymously, to help create a trusted environment.

MHFA is not necessarily first-aid for harm received at work but a recognition that we all, in one way or another, bring our whole lives to work. However much we focus on the tasks which face us, we may be affected, in different ways, by a variety of life events such as moving house, divorce, or bereavement, and the right conversations with people we trust, can help us through.

For more information visit Mental Health First Aid England

See the House of Commons debate pack



Blog – Friday 21st December 2019 – Mental Health First Aid