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Mental Health First Aiders – How to embed best practice

Updated: Jan 8

Never before has an understanding of mental health in the workplace been so important. Given our experience of the pandemic, employers cannot afford to ignore employee wellbeing in any level in the organisation. A mental health condition may be covered by disability discrimination within the Equality Act and can often contribute to high levels of absenteeism. With this in mind employers need to be thinking about staff wellbeing and devising policies and practices to widen understanding and support staff. The impact of mental health in the workplace can be significant and should not be underestimated.

The statistics around mental health speak for themselves:

  • 40% of employees take time off work because of mental health issues

  • Only 1 in 5 employees suffering from a mental health condition confide in their employer

  • Over 50% of employees do not feel that their mental health is a big enough priority for their employer

  • More than 1 in 2 employees state they would leave their job if their mental health wasn’t being supported in their workplace

Source: Beneden Health

Staff with mental health issues often try to mask their issues and continue working rather than take time off. Unfortunately there is still some stigma around mental health and how to manage it. More employers are investing in trained mental health first aiders (MHFA) more than ever before– great news! But it doesn’t end there; this is only part of the well-being jigsaw. What else should an employer do to pull the other pieces together and move forward with their commitment to mental health?

We recommend that employers need a mental health strategy and plan. This shows a commitment, recognition, and a level of understanding by the employer. But crucially any policy or plan moving forward will need to identify who does what and where responsibility lies.

Those managing in the organisation have a responsibility to ensure a strategy is put in place and how they will develop it and move it forward. Visibility from the top is so important along with fostering an environment which encourages staff to talk.

Work life balance and stress are a major contributor to poor mental health and is within management responsibility and control. One to one’s are a great opportunity to talk about wellbeing even if there are no concerns - it should be a regular conversation. Of course, as always, HR professionals are there to support with policies, information resources and individual advice. Bringing occupational health expertise on board can be a useful asset.

We need to remember that managing mental health is not all one way. No one knows how someone feels and it can be incredibly difficult for someone suffering with mental health to take full responsibility for a proactive plan, but staff need to be encouraged to talk about their own wellbeing. Be self aware and able to identify triggers, if possible, as well as what might help them. Encouragement to engage with their line manager is a ‘must.’

Mental Health First Aiders can provide a helpful and informed point of contact for someone experiencing mental health issues. They can spot the signs and symptoms of mental health issues and offer a supportive conversation. However, they are not experts. With a physical injury, a first aider can give support until the expert medical help arrives and it is the same with mental health. MHFA’s need continual support with training, resources, clear guidelines, and facilities to help staff. Recognise and use their knowledge!

The organisation may have developed great policies, strategy, and support mechanisms but to move mental health awareness forward, all these need to be communicated and made commonplace. Staff need to know their wellbeing is a priority, they need to know who the MHFA’s are, where they can access help and that they will be listened to. Wellbeing can be a sensitive issue, so the right balance of communication is important. Regular messages and promotions help keep the subject ‘fresh’ and current.

Finally, employers need to drive well-being forward, promoting initiatives. Incorporating mental health awareness into everyday working life. It can be included as part of an induction process, management training - it not a ‘fad’ or something to be shelved in a policy.

And finally………

"Mental health…is not a destination, but a process. It’s about how you drive, not where you’re going." — Noam Shpancer, PhD

Pull together the pieces of your wellbeing jigsaw and help your employees on their journey!

Check out other Blogs in our series:

Please contact Robinson Grace HR for further advice and support via or call us on 01793 311937 to see if we can help you.

The content of our blogs is intended for general information only and does not replace legal or other professional advice.

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