Should offices have mental health first aiders?

We’re all familiar with the office first-aider: the go-to person for plasters and painkillers. But our mental health also needs attention while we’re at work.

In this article you will learn:

  • What a mental health first aider is
  • Why offices would benefit from having mental health first aiders
  • The difference mental health first aiders can make

Enter the mental health first aider: a person specially trained to support employees who are having mental health problems – just as a first aider might perform CPR or stop bleeding.

What do mental health first aiders do?

Again, just like traditional first aiders, mental health first aiders are given training. They learn to recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

They’re not therapists or counsellors, but can provide initial support. This might be listening in a non-judgmental way before helping the person to access the right help, such as counselling or self-help.

Mental health first aiders are also trained to help prevent problems. They’re encouraged to raise awareness about mental health in the workplace, and to help their colleagues to look after their mental wellbeing.

Illustration of a person with a rainbow pattern coming out of their head to represent mental health by Llanakila for Virgin.com

Why do we need mental health first aiders?

Mental health issues are a big problem for both employees and employers. One in six people in the UK will experience mental ill health, such as depression or anxiety. And work-related stress means we lose 15.4 million working days every year.

“The impact of neglecting mental health in the workplace is twofold: both an economic and a human cost which we have the opportunity to alleviate,” says Paul Keenan, CEO Bauer Media & Radio.

The company has partnered with training social enterprise Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) campaigner Natasha Devon MBE for the ‘Where’s Your Head At?’ campaign. They want the Government to change the law to make employers have mental first aiders in the workplace, just as they’re required to have physical first aiders.

“The change in legislation we are calling for will establish a baseline for protecting mental health in the workplace, ensuring no one is left behind,” says Fionuala Bonnar, chief operating officer at MHFA. “This is just one part of improving approaches to workplace mental health, but it represents an important step forward.”

How many mental health first aiders are there?

Their numbers are growing. MHFA England has around 1,800 trainers. So far, they’ve delivered courses to 330,000 people, everywhere from schools to the armed forces to big business. Eventually, they hope that one-in-ten people will be trained in mental health first aid.

It’s on the agenda for plenty of the UK’s top companies: PwC, Bauer Media and WH Smith, for example, have all trained mental health first aiders. Thames Water has more than 350, who wear green lanyards so they can be easily identified.

“At WH Smith, our employees’ mental health is of equal importance to their physical health,” says CEO Stephen Clarke. “Every one of our 14,000 employees has access to mental health support and we are proud to have the same number of Mental Health First Aiders across our business as we do physical health first aiders.”

Read: How to break free from self-limiting narratives

What difference will they make?

It’s hoped that mental health first aiders will both cut workplace absence and make us feel better about ourselves across the board.

And the companies which have introduced them are seeing results. Thames Water, for example, says it’s had a 75 per cent reduction in work-related stress, anxiety and depression over the last five years

“Ensuring that first aid support is there for the millions of people who struggle with their mental health every year will make a big difference to how we all think about our health as a whole,” says Fionuala.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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