Does your organisation need a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA)?
In my work with clients, the topic of Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA) often comes up. Both organisations and individuals ask me whether I think MHFA training is worth it. Because employee well-being is crucial to the success of any business, it’s important to get the right answer.
Maintaining a healthy work environment begins with ensuring that every employee’s mental health gets attention. Well-being needs to be baked into the DNA of the business. The typical person spends 1/3 of their time at work, which over an average lifetime amounts to more than 90,000 hours.
I’ve spent years helping business leaders become more aware that overworking in a stressful job can cause employee burnout, anxiety and even depression. And I have shown people that with the right tools, they can establish a safe and healthy workplace that reduces the negative impacts of a stressful work environment.
As part of this, I emphasise that true employee well-being depends on a solid foundation and not well-being perks.
The foundations include: clear communications, defined roles in the organisation, employee involvement, a healthy environment, reasonable demands, and rewards that are personally enriching, not just monetary. This is the real framework for employee wellbeing.
But within that framework, the question arises:
How can Mental Health First Aiders contribute to the overall goal of employee well-being?
Where do they fit in?
And is the training worth it?
Let’s find out…
Mental Health First Aiders in the workplace
One approach to the issue of mental health in the workplace is introducing a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA) – an individual trained to spot the signs of poor mental well-being. MHFAs can also provide crisis support and resources to those struggling with mental health.
The MHFA training program was originally developed in Australia in 2000 to help identify mental health issues among the public. Now it’s increasingly relied upon by businesses seeking to improve employee mental health. Companies can assign employees to participate in MHFA training or – less commonly – hire an outside MHFA to assist.
In 2016, the Department of Health and Business in the Community (BITC) endorsed the MHFA program by recommending that employers provide MHFA training and promote mental health in the workplace.
MHFA England has trained more than 400,000 people in mental health first aid since 2009. Businesses that have implemented MHFA as a part of their mental health strategy have seen a reduction in absences and referrals to employee assistance programs.
So, what is the catch?
Well, MHFA needs to be part of a mental health or well-being strategy.
MHFA is a safeguard, not a silver bullet; it should never be your organisation’s standalone mental health resource, it needs to be part of a considered, inclusive and holistic employee well-being strategy.
Steps organizations can take to improve employee well-being:
- Optimising a healthy work environment
Rather than simply utilising an MHFAs to ‘tick a box’ organisations need to first address basic issues that relate to employee well-being: the need for collaboration and teamwork, employee recognition, accessible and fair leadership, appropriate staffing, a safe physical work environment, employee autonomy, and clear communications.
- Awareness of mental health issues.
Mental health issues affecting employees go beyond stress and burnout; they also include other health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. Organisations must be able to spot employees who are struggling, and know how to start and continue supportive conversations on a day to day basis across the board, and have people to who they can go to for support in times of crisis.
- Preventative support
In addition to creating a healthy and safe work environment where people have reasonable demands and appropriate support, you can bolster your team’s wellbeing with further preventative measures.
For example, giving individuals the tools they need to navigate stressful times, such as creating a personalised well-being action plan, maintaining an efficient and caring human resources team, training MHFAs within the organisation and giving them autonomy and budget to create initiatives periodically. And – last but not least – having approachable and compassionate leaders who model healthy behaviours.
- Offering a counsellor or therapy service
Consider hiring an external counsellor or therapist service – such as Oliva – if you really want to offer complete and thorough mental health support. It can greatly benefit employees and reduce the gravity and duration of mental health challenges they experience.
However, for these services to have sufficient impact, the environment must be one where people understand what they are going through, in the first place. That’s why awareness sessions and managers and leaders that can talk about mental well-being confidently are important. This way employees are able to realise that they need additional support, as well as being able to access it.
So, is Mental Health First Aider training worth it?
I’ll answer this in two parts.
Yes, with some caveats.
The people who are trained must be approachable, confident, empathetic and clearly known as a supportive resource within the business.
But they must also be part of a more holistic employee well-being strategy – starting with the very foundations of the business. If they are not, they are likely to fall into the ‘tick a box’ category and have little impact.
Yes, but there are better ways to invest in employee well-being.
Giving all or the majority of your manager’s basic training to spot the signs and symptoms when someone is struggling is always going to be a more effective way to support wellbeing.
Managers speak to teams frequently and they (hopefully) know them well, therefore, they have far more opportunities to spot when something is amiss. It’s common that individuals accumulate stress and slide into burnout, anxiety or even depression before they truly realise that something is up. A manager who can catch this early on can help that person to get back in balance and avoid long term absences or worse.
In sum, MHFA is a great addition to a well-structured employee well-being strategy but more general awareness and support, across the organisation, will provide a better overall experience for teams and managers.
Effective Mental Health Support
If you’re looking for someone to help create a culture of well-being from the foundation up, look no further. I am a MHFA (no irony intended!), certified business change manager and qualified executive and leadership coach. I have helped numerous StartUps, ScaleUps, and corporates, by providing leaders, managers and teams with the tools they need to improve the way they work and better support employee well-being.
I will help your business build a healthy and sustainable work environment that protects the well-being of your employees. Through 1:1 coaching, workshops, and training, I can help navigate complex topics, reduce the stigma of mental health struggles, and ensure that your business has an environment in which all employees feel supported.
Not sure where to start? Let me help. Book a free 30-minute consultation to find out how you can embed wellbeing into the heart of the way your team works.
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