Mental Health First Aid Tips

Tuesday June 21, 2022

One in four people will experience a mental health problem each year in the UK.

Workplace stress in particular has seen a significant rise during recent years amidst pandemic fears and isolated conditions. 2020/2021 saw 451,000 cases of workplace stress, depression, and anxiety, a 30% increase compared to the previous year.

Historically, there has been an inherent ignorance of these issues at work. Despite growing awareness and acceptance of mental ill-health in recent years, people may avoid speaking up about their own problems at work for fear of coming across as ‘unprofessional’.

2020 actually saw a 3% increase in the number of employees who avoided approaching the subject compared to 2019, with men almost 27% more likely than women to keep work-related mental health problems to themselves.

Suffering in silence can have a devastating effect on the mental well-being of a team, not to mention productivity and output levels. As well as influencing presenteeism at work, staff retention and sickness can also be negatively impacted by avoiding these conversations.

Although some may have experience in recognising signs of mental distress, they may simply not know the best way to help. There has never been a more crucial time to develop an understanding of the warning signs and risks involved with mental health problems.

Thankfully, the way in which organisations tackle these issues when they do arise is improving, thanks to initiatives like mental health first aid.

Mental health first aid training provides ongoing support to organisations and companies, enabling employees to deal with mental health concerns and continuing to break down the fear that surrounds these subjects at work.

What is Mental Health First Aid?

Mental health first aid equips people with the tools they need to spot signs of mental illness or substance abuse amongst their employees and offer the right support.

Being able to recognise the initial warning signs of these issues creates the building blocks for offering proactive support and preventing them from getting worse.

Providing businesses and organisations with the correct mental health first aid training also creates a more harmonious working environment, infusing the company culture with compassion and positivity while reducing the stigma around mental health that can still often linger in the workplace.

How Does Mental Health First Aid Training Work?

Similarly to physical first aid, this kind of training teaches people about signs, symptoms, and support. Participants are educated about the symptoms of conditions such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and addictions in order to enable and encourage early intervention. They are also taught to assess the risk of harm or suicide – they know if and when to contact emergency services, and can complete critical incident documents when necessary.

Mental health first aid training gives participants an understanding of:

  • The impact of mental health issues
  • Risk factors and warning signs of mental health issues
  • What common treatments can be used to support those in need
  • How to step in and offer support – this could be through an internal process such as employers, peers, or self-help resources, or through an external support system such as the NHS

Just as mental health issues are challenging for those experiencing them, offering help can often feel daunting too, especially in instances where colleagues might not know each other too well or aren’t particularly close. This kind of training understands that, taking everyone’s feelings into consideration and providing the right tools for a range of situations.

What Does a Mental Health First Aider Do?

A mental health first aider provides a point of contact for employees who might be struggling. They are there to listen in a safe and confidential manner, without judgement, and can signpost people to the appropriate additional support available.

They are able to offer help with a range of situations, no matter how big or small, and can respond quickly and calmly to emergencies that may occur due to ongoing mental health concerns.

Beyond that, they act as mental health advocates within the workplace to encourage an open environment for discussion amongst all team members.

A successful mental health first aider demonstrates qualities such as:

    • Kindness: Being kind and compassionate will greatly impact people’s ability to confide in you. If someone feels that their issues will be met with care and consideration, they are far more likely to want to share them.
    • Empathy: Having the capacity to understand and relate to how other people might be feeling really helps you to spot signs of unease, especially if the person has not approached you first or is struggling to open up.
    • Confidence: This quality is all about trust – if it’s your responsibility to look out for people in need, they need to trust that you will have the confidence to respond in a proactive manner.
  • Non-judgemental attitude: Opening up about mental health can make people feel extremely vulnerable, so it’s important to ensure you react in a non-judgemental way. This can help the person who is struggling to feel safe and secure in their struggles.

While mental health first aiders cannot officially diagnose a person who is experiencing mental ill-health, nor can they offer ‘counselling’ in the sense that they are not legally qualified to do so, they can identify symptoms and causes and connect employees to those who have the professional capacity.

How Can You Recognise Signs of Mental Distress?

Recognising indications of mental distress such as anxiety, depression, or even a nervous breakdown is the first step to being able to offer support.

Some are more noticeable than others – those who are suffering may experience a range of physical, psychological, or behavioural symptoms. Distress manifests in everybody differently, so it’s important to bear this in mind when looking out for others.

First aid mental health training teaches employees how to spot signs such as:

  • Decreases in engagement
  • Low levels of productivity
  • Uncharacteristic behaviour
  • Changes in habits or patterns
  • Emergence of disinterest
  • Increased absences
  • Irrationality or aggravation
  • Social withdrawal
  • Substance abuse

People can be hesitant to ask for help when they need it, so it’s important to be aware of these common non-verbal indicators.

Mental health first aiders are also shown how to deal with emergency situations, for example an instance of attack in the workplace, in a quick and calm manner. This is done through activities such as role-play and simulations that teach proactive skills, provide in-depth knowledge, and boost confidence in people’s ability to help.

If you want to find out more about mental health first aid training, or have any other questions about mental health awareness in the workplace, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with your local office at the H&S Dept.

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