As a provider of Mental Health in the workplace training, we receive a lot of enquiries for Mental health First Aid (MHFA) training.
This two day course is a hugely valuable and comprehensive course which equips people within the organisation with the knowledge, tools and confidence to deal with any mental health issues that might arise in the workplace on a first aid basis, mostly through identifying signs of distress, approaching and having a conversation and signposting professional support.
MHFA training has been available for many years and with the increased awareness, in recent years, of the impact of poor mental health on organisations and the people who work within them, many employers are enrolling select members of their team on the course in an effort to promote positive mental health in their organisation.
But, is Mental Health First Aid the answer?
Well, that really depends on the question.
If the question is: “how can we ensure that anyone in our workplace suffering with a mental health issue is identified quickly, approached appropriately and supported competently?”
Then, having trained, qualified and confident Mental Health First Aiders is possibly the answer.
But if the question is: how can we protect our people from compromised mental health and provide the conditions to enable them to contribute the best of themselves in their life, their role and to the organisation?”
Then just having Mental Health First Aiders is most definitely not.
Any employer who believes that they can mitigate mental health risk for their people, or promote positive mental health in their organisation, simply by introducing Mental Health First Aiders, has missed a really important point and that is that employers have an obligation to protect the health and safety of their people and that includes their mental health and safety.
Having Mental Health First Aiders in place, without preventative measures, is akin to a building site providing traditional first aiders, who can treat injuries, after an accident, but failing to remove the hazards that might cause an accident or injury in the first place.
It is not protection and it’s not necessarily compliant with Health and Safety obligations either.
A building site that is safe and that offers genuine protection for people, has safety measures in place that prevent injury and first aiders who are able to respond confidently and competently, in the rare event that those measures fail.
A workplace that offers safety and protection from a mental health perspective is no different.
Truly protecting the mental health of the people who work in the organisation is not achieved simply through sign posting professional support for people with mental health issues, either caused by, or exacerbated by work.
It is achieved through looking at the factors at work, that might put people at risk of compromised mental health (including, but not limited to role clarity, expectations, workload and other demands, environment and relationships), and then actively mitigating that risk through various mechanisms.
In short, Mental Health First Aiders can be a hugely valuable resource in the workplace.
Their very presence can instil a sense of comfort in employees and if things do get difficult for an employee, they can be a great support to the HR and/or Occupational Health function, by signposting specific professional support, both inside and outside of the organisation.
But they are only a small part of what employers need to be doing, if they are truly going to ensure the protection of their people and in effect, their organisation as a whole.
To discuss how you can ensure that your mental health support provision truly delivers protection and value, get in touch.