Considering Mental Health First Aid? How to Get Started…
- Date: Wednesday 15th November 2017
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It is the 10th anniversary of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) in England this week, but it is only in the last couple of years that this training has become the main game in town for organisations wishing to start a mental health programme.
Why mental health?
People who feel they are valued and able to speak about what concerns them, buy into you and your business and provide better results, as has been proven in numerous studies.
What could you do if your sickness absence was reduced? The enormous 40% of sick leave taken by those with stress related issues just overtook musculoskeletal disorders as the top reason for sickness absence in the HSE’s ill health stats.
It takes an average of 23.9 days to resolve sick leave for stress – and as we all know, these cases can drag on for months and months.
All employers also have legal responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to ensure the health and safety and welfare at work of their employees. This includes minimising the risk of stress-related illness or injury to employees.
Considerations when implementing Mental Health First Aid
HSE, CIPD and indeed all research agrees that good management and leadership are key to a mentally healthy organisation. It is crucial to provide managers with a basic understanding of how to manage stress and mental health in the workplace, in order to manage their teams effectively.
General mental health awareness training
This should cover an awareness of what mental health is, what good mental health looks like and some basic resilience training for your teams. You can enhance this with an understanding of mindfulness and other stress management techniques.
An organisational approach
You need to look at your policies and processes when you implement a mental health programme. When someone goes off sick with stress what does the policy say about how they are treated for example?
Get leaders talking about it
The most powerful message is when one of your senior leaders is prepared to talk about their own experiences. This really creates a completely different environment as it gives people permission to tell their own stories.
Don’t just do it once! You need to continually communicate
You might want to kick off with a wellbeing week, or an internal conference, but keep the momentum going.
How do you administer a Mental Health First Aid programme?
In the main, organisations have two approaches to this.
Either they officially appoint and publicise MH First Aiders, or they just train as many people as possible, let it be known they are doing training, but don’t officially appoint someone for the role.
There are pros and cons to both approaches. Lesley Heath, Head of HSE for London Midland, chose the former and she decided to use senior managers to go through the training first to demonstrate commitment.
She says: “We decided to show we were taking it seriously by ensuring we had the equivalent competent qualified first aiders as we do physical first aiders and we felt by appointing them as Mental Health First Aiders, we were giving more kudos than just raising awareness”.
Clients sometimes have concerns over selection – should they allow people to self-select? Does this always get the best people? There are legitimate concerns to some degree, however people will generally talk to someone that they can trust.
Consider support for your MH First Aiders
Sometimes your first aiders may have difficult conversations they take home with them. The course manuals provided by MHFA England are an excellent ongoing support resource, as is their Line Managers guide. The MHFA England website also has lots of useful resources to support MH First Aiders.
However you will still need to consider whether they work together to support each other, whether they use an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), or whether there is something else you can put in place to ensure your duty of care is not compromised.