Making a difference: how to become a Mental Health First Aider

Millions of Britons struggle with mental health problems such as stress and depression. But spotting the signs of poor mental health – in yourself or others – is not always easy.

Becoming a Mental Health First Aider should help you to take better care of your own mental wellbeing as well as that of your colleagues.

Why is mental health at work important?

Mental health problems cost the UK economy up to £99 billion every year, according to the 2017 Government-commissioned review “Thriving at Work”. Employers bear the brunt of that cost, losing up to £42 billion a year.

But taking simple steps to improve mental health and wellbeing in the workplace can make a big difference.

Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at mental health charity Mind, said: “When Mind surveyed more than 44,000 employees this year, we found that 48% had experienced poor mental health, such as stress, while working at their current organisation.

“Considering how much of our lives are spent at work and how common mental health problems are, its important employees feel supported and employers feel confident supporting them.”

Key takeaways

  • Mental health problems are bad for business as well as individuals.
  • Simple steps can make a big difference.

How can Mental Health First Aiders help?

It’s not always easy to spot the signs of poor mental health, especially as social stigma means we often try to hide our symptoms.

According to Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index 2017-18, only half the 48% of workers who have experienced poor mental health in their current job told their employers about it.

By training as a Mental Health First Aider, you can learn how to recognise when people are struggling and to step in before their problems spiral out of control, while making yourself more valuable to your employer at the same time.

Simon Blake OBE, chief executive of training provider Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, believes having people trained to help within the company can also encourage people experiencing mental health issues to seek help.

“Knowing that someone is available in your workplace as a listening ear can be really powerful in breaking down stigma and helping people to come forward when they are struggling.”

Key takeaways

  • It can be hard to spot when someone is struggling with poor mental health.
  • Early intervention is key to recovery.

How do I become a Mental Health First Aider?

All you have to do to become a certified Mental Health First Aider is take a two-day course run by MHFA England.

This course can be completed at a venue near you or at your workplace (if your employer is keen to train several members of staff).

On the course, which should be refreshed every three years, you will learn practical skills such as how to follow the five-step Mental Health First Aider action plan:

  1. Approach the person, assess and assist with any crisis
  2. Listen and communicate non-judgementally
  3. Give support and information
  4. Encourage the person to get appropriate professional help
  5. Encourage other supports

You can then put these into practice if you notice a colleague is struggling, or if someone approaches you for help.

“MHFA England training raises awareness of common mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and psychosis, and gives people the skills, knowledge and confidence to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill health, listen non-judgementally and signpost a colleague to further support,” Blake said.

“We don’t teach people to be therapists, but we do teach people to listen, reassure and respond, even in a crisis.”

Key takeaway

  • A two-day course – at work or at a nearby venue – is all you have to do to become a Mental Health First Aider.
  • You will need to refresh your skills every three years.

In summary

By training as a Mental Health First Aider, you will learn skills that will help you in your everyday life, and could make a huge difference to the people you work with.

You can find out more about how to become a Mental Health First Aider by visiting the MHFA England website.

For more on mental health and social mobility in the workplace:

Jessica Bown is an award-winning freelance journalist and editor.

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