Mental health first aid image

Mental Health First Aid – at work

By Alex Read, Health and Wellbeing Programme Manager at AXA Health and an MHFA England accredited Mental Health First Aid Instructor

1 November 2019

In recent years there has been a significant shift in the way we talk about mental health – both in our personal lives and at work. However, despite growing awareness of the issue, for many talking about mental health at work is still taboo. 

While it’s encouraging to see more employers making changes to normalise this, the reality is it remains an incredibly complex issue – especially when it comes to considering how to support individual employees’ needs. So it probably won’t be a surprise to learn that mental health is top of mind for many bosses, with, in a recent survey of employee benefits, HR and wellbeing specialists,* 62% agreeing that mental health is their board’s biggest area of concern.

The need for a strong emphasis on mental health in employers’ wellbeing strategies has never been greater and training employees as Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA) is one of the many ways they can start.

What is Mental Health First Aid training?

The two-day Mental Health First Aider training licensed by MHFA England bears some resemblance to physical first aider training in as much as it equips those who successfully complete it with the knowledge, tools and confidence to recognise warning signs and offer suitable support when someone’s experiencing mental health issues – guiding them to getting the right professional help. 

It does not teach them to be therapists or try to solve people’s problems, however. Rather, it enables them to listen, reassure and respond – even in a crisis. 

A day in the life of a Mental Health First Aider

Mental Health First Aiders act as a first line of support for fellow employees. For instance, if a workmate is experiencing a panic attack or wants to have a chat about their mental health or is looking for advice on how to best approach someone else who’s struggling, they can help.

In my experience, the presence of Mental Health First Aiders in a workforce helps to raise awareness of mental ill health, encouraging employees to explore and talk more freely about their own feelings and experiences and, in turn, helps to challenge misperceptions and create a more positive, supportive working culture. 

Mental Health First Aid training can also help the individuals who undertake it by teaching them skills to support their own mental wellbeing. For my part, I now enjoy greater job satisfaction and find myself being able to apply what I’ve learned as a Mental Health First Aider in my life both inside and outside of work.

Workplace mental health support – the interest grows

Over the past two years the number of businesses taking part in the MHFA England first aider training AXA Health provides has quadrupled, evidencing a considerable appetite on the part of employers for addressing this important issue. 

But just having Mental Health First Aiders on site isn’t enough to support mental health at work properly – think of it as one of a number of wellbeing pillars employers need to raise to build a strategy that truly enables their people to lead healthy, active lives. 

Three tips for businesses considering introducing MHFA trainers to their workforce

  • MHFA training can’t be a tick box exercise. It needs to be part of an overall framework for employee support.
  • Bio-psycho-social support. Take a holistic approach to building your wellbeing strategy. Don’t overlook employees’ physical and social health.
  • Supporting Mental Health First Aiders in the workplace. Once they’ve completed their training, what measures will you put in place to support them? Regular get-togethers are a great way to refresh training principles, share learnings and offer mutual support. And keep the conversation going.

*REBA Employee Wellbeing Research 2019, in association with AXA PPP healthcare.  

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