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What Is Mental Health First Aid?

Written by:
Paula Coster
BA (Hons), MSc.
Associate Member CIEHF

Mental illness is becoming a rising concern for millions of people globally. Anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental health conditions affect individuals, families, and society as a whole, posing a significant burden on everyone concerned.

Mental health disorders encompass a wide range of psychological issues that impact nearly half a billion individuals worldwide. With the emergence of the COVID-19 epidemic, the number of people seeking treatment for mental health illnesses such as anxiety and depression has increased dramatically.

With a growing number of people today suffering from mental health issues, having mental health first aiders in your workplace is critical.

Many people who suffer from mental illness report feeling stigmatized due to their illness. Therefore, it is vital to recognize the signs of emotional suffering and encourage people to talk about their mental health issues to fight the stigma.

What is a Mental Health First Aider?

A mental health first aider is a worker who serves as the first point of contact for colleagues suffering from mental health issues. Although a mental health first aider is not educated to be a counsellor or psychotherapist, they can provide assistance to individuals struggling with emotional discomfort or mental health illness.

So, a mental health first responder is not a replacement for mental health care, but someone who can recognize early signs of mental illness, provide support, and suggest solutions.

What Are the Responsibilities of a Mental Health First Aider?

You may be interested in becoming a mental health first aider in your place of work.  If you are, here are some of the mental health first responder’s role ty[ical responsibilities:

  • Recognize mental illness’s early warning signs and symptoms.
  • Assist an employee who is experiencing symptoms of a mental health crisis.
  • Listen without passing judgment.
  • Initiate a dialogue with a coworker who may be struggling with mental illness.
  • Provide assistance in times of increased stress or crisis.
  • Provide mental health assistance in everyday situations at work.
  • Encourage a coworker with mental illness to seek appropriate professional help.
  • Encourage self-help strategies for managing stress and mental health concerns.
  • Determine the likelihood of self-harm or suicide.

Why Is It Important to Look After People’s Mental Health?

Mental health issues can manifest themselves through subtle cognitive, emotional, and behavioural symptoms.

Unrecognized and untreated mental illness can lead to serious health issues, poor relationships, severe behavioural issues, and even suicide.

The most common problems associated with mental illness include low mood, loneliness and isolation, self-esteem issues, relationship problems, school and work-related difficulties, and reduced life satisfaction, among other things.  In its most severe forms, mental illness can lead to self-harm or harm to others, suicidal thoughts, and suicide.

There is lots of evidence which proves there is a direct correlation between mental wellbeing and productivity at work, so as well as providing support for someone who needs it, being a mental health first aider is also hugely beneficial to your business.

What are the First Signs of Mental Illness?

Some of the most common first signs of mental illness include a reduced capacity to manage day-to-day stress at work and in life. In addition, a person with mental health concerns may experience excessive fear and worry, lasting feelings of sadness and hopelessness, and sudden mood changes.

Individuals suffering from a mental health illness may have a low tolerance for frustration, strong sentiments of impatience and anger, feel exhausted, a loss of humour, or difficulty concentrating at work. You might spot these signs in one of your colleagues. If you do, you should recognise them as a possible indication of mental ill-health.

A mental health first aider can identify the early signs of distress and offer non-judgmental listening and assistance in seeking further help from a medical professional.

What Are the Advantages of Having Mental Health First Aiders in My Workplace?

Work consumes a large portion of our lives; we spend one-third of our lives working. In addition, millions of people work long hours in highly stressful or even toxic work environments. Because work can be a source of stress and burnout, having mental health first responders at work is essential these days.

If you’re not MHFA trained, you may miss the one opportunity to make a difference.

Organizations and businesses indicate their concern for their employees’ mental health and wellbeing by expressing a willingness to introduce mental health first aiders to their teams. Showing willingness and commitment in supporting staff is a great way to improve staff morale.

How to Become a Mental Health First Aider

To become a mental health first aider, you need to take a mental health first aid (MHFA) course. The course can help you understand mental health and why looking after it is essential. During the MHFA course, you will learn to recognize the signs of emotional distress, mental illness, and common triggers.
Recognizing that emotional distress is just as incapacitating as physical illnesses can lower the stigma attached to mental health, help individuals better manage work-related stress and increase treatment prospects for a more extensive range of people.
In addition, mental health first aid training teaches trainees how to confidently administer first aid care, learn practical skills and tools to support psychological wellbeing, and build a healthy and supportive work atmosphere.
Finally, bringing mental health first aider training into the workplace allows people to talk about their mental health issues more openly, encouraging acceptance and eliminating or reducing mental illness stigma.

Employees who are satisfied and mentally healthy are more productive, committed, and eager to contribute to common goals.  It is just what we want as an employer or business owner. A healthy and happy working atmosphere is one of the best ways to improve resilience, enhance individual wellbeing, increase retention at work and improve productivity.

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