How to Become a Mental Health First Aider

17 October 2019 -

Toy yellow ambulanceIt’s one thing to be empathetic to those struggling with mental health issues, but how can a mental health first aid certification help you support your colleagues to get the help they need at work?

Emily Hill

One new management innovation – which CMI itself is looking into adopting – is to introduce a new role to the workplace: the ‘mental health first aider.’ The idea is that you have a specific member of staff trained in dealing with mental health issues that arise in your work environment, and help any staff suffering from them. The idea is for managers to recruit or train individuals who are approachable, understanding and sensitive, who are the first point of contact for those employees going through a difficult time with their mental health.

“Mental health can be measured on a scale just like physical health,” explains Rose Hayes, the certified mental health first aider for Cartwright Communications. “I’d be surprised if anyone agreed they were completely fit with no ailments… it’s very clear to me that no-one should have to hide any difficulties in fear of it impacting their progression at work. As is the case with anyone working with an illness or personal difficulty (whether physical or mental), it takes immense strength and dedication to come into work everyday and fulfil their duties. Employers who don’t recognise the value of these employees will be the ones left behind.”

This is obviously attractive in principle – but how does it work in practice?

You can sign up to official training with Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, to undertake different courses of varying lengths, which provide you with the tools and resources needed to support a colleague experiencing mental health difficulties. The courses teach you all the ways the workplace can affect mental health, practical ways of spotting and supporting your colleagues, and which official bodies and resources to direct them to for external support.

Anne Bartlett, health and wellbeing manager at Consultants to Government and Industry (CGI), says: “My first action on taking up my post was to identify the biggest risks to the health and wellbeing of CGI employees and of course top of the list, in common with most organisations in the tertiary sector, were mental health issues, particularly stress, anxiety and depression.” Her next step was to approach Mental Health First Aid England for official training.

“During the training, we are taught the importance of listening without diagnosis and to signpost to advanced help from a dedicated service,” explains Niki Poolman, mental health first aider at Xandr. “Sometimes just listening without judgement is what people need to get through tough times. Since I have taken the training, I see mental health differently. I now feel confident with the tools I have learned to help others who are going through more difficult times.”

After newly trained staff return to the workplace fizzing with this sort of enthusiasm for what they have learned, Bartlett adds, their value is quickly “recognised by managers to the extent that when setting up new project teams or sites, training in mental health first aid is requested. They are seen as a vital part of the infrastructure alongside physical first aiders and fire wardens.”

Renae Shaw, head of HR at Search Laboratory, believes in this new trend so much she has trained 50% of the digital marketing agency’s 150 employees in mental health first aid. “A commitment to mental health training sends an important message to staff that the company cares about mental wellbeing, and shows that we recognise that stress and mental ill health can happen to anyone,” she explains. “Our commitment to mental health has had a positive impact on staff; our staff survey has shown that more people are willing to tell the company if they were struggling than they were before we started to raise awareness.”

If you’re thinking about signing up to become a mental health first aider, read our article on how to talk about depression at work.


Image: Unsplash

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