One in six adults deal with a common mental disorder such as anxiety and depression. Among people who have mental health problems, 89% say their disorder affects their work. Unfortunately, 60.2% of workers also say they would be embarrassed to disclose information about their mental health to their employers.
On top of the psychological toll mental health issues take on professionals, businesses are severely impacted financially as well. Poor mental health among workers costs employers up to £42 billion a year.
Mental health first aid (MHFA) seeks to address this significant problem of mental health in the workplace. By identifying workers struggling with mental health, they can be directed to proper treatment as soon as possible for their well-being. This is where MHFA practitioners come in.
The Role of a Mental Health First Aider at Work
An MHFA practitioner is the point of contact for people in the workplace who are dealing with mental health issues. They are responsible for providing support and helpful advice to guide colleagues toward appropriate avenues for mental health treatment. They must be able recognise the symptoms of mental health issues. In case of emergencies, they have to be trained and equipped for urgent response.
An important distinction that has to be made though is that mental health first aiders are not mental health professionals. They are not trained or licensed to provide actual treatment unlike psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and counsellors.
MHFA practitioners can serve as supportive confidants to workers then point them towards experts and resources that can treat mental health issues. They also are a line of communication for managers to be aware of and educated on mental health problems in the workplace so that policies can then be enacted to tackle such problems.
Ultimately, MHFA practitioners have to act as advocates for mental health awareness, fostering a positive culture that supports people with mental health issues and reduces the stigma surrounding mental health.
The Three Most Important Skills of an Effective MHFA Practitioner
Managing the complexities of mental health issues in the workplace requires a specific skill set. While there certainly are more specialised requirements to becoming an effective MHFA practitioner, there are three skills that are absolutely necessary for doing such work.
Active, Non-Judgemental Listening
One of the primary tasks a mental health first aider does is talk with workers. They provide a safe space in the workplace for people struggling with a mental health issue to have open and honest conversations. For there to be open and honest conversations, an MHFA practitioner must make workers feel comfortable enough to open up and be honest about their struggles.
In this dynamic, a mental health first aider has to focus more on the role of being the listener. They are not there to proffer solutions. They are not there to argue. They are there to lend an ear to someone going through something.
There are two parts to listening for MHFA. One is to be an active listener. What this means is to wholly engage with what the person is saying to get a clear picture of the situation. It includes reflecting on what has been said to internalise it, asking clarifying questions to avoid any confusion, and restating important points to ensure the worker’s issues are understood.
The second part of listening as a mental health first aider is being non-judgemental. The employee sharing their issues shouldn’t feel embarrassed or fear any sort of reprisal from doing so. As the listener, the MHFA practitioner must have an open mind, withhold criticism, and avoid interrupting the speaker.
An active, non-judgemental approach to listening also shows in warm and attentive body language. People are sensitive to dismissive cues like eye-rolling, furled eyebrows, and crossed arms; moreso when they are at their most vulnerable.
Calm and Collected Confidence
MHFA practitioners have to be prepared to hear about troubling issues, some of which may even be genuine cause for alarm. They cannot react to workers sharing problems, no matter the severity, with panic.
Of course, it is completely understandable for the mental health first aider to feel anxiety, especially in response to an employee that expresses thoughts of self-harm or has a psychotic episode at work. It is crucial that an MHFA practitioner remains calm, lest they risk exacerbating the situation.
Maintaining calmness in the face of a worker in psychological turmoil accomplishes multiple things. It allows the mental health first aider to clearly assess the circumstances and think up of an appropriate response. It de-escalates stressful situations when the worker confiding in the MHFA practitioner can see that they are with an individual that can ground them in reality with their presence.
In tandem with maintaining calmness, a mental health first aider has to convey confidence. Confidence in their show of support reassures an employee experiencing a mental health crisis that they are, in fact, getting the help they need. It pushes MHFA practitioners to respond to emergencies with a sense of urgency, and in doing so, may prevent even worse incidents from happening.
When workers see that a mental health first aider can immediately address their problems, they are more likely to trust in the practitioner and the policies that enable prompt actions.
Mental health issues are not problems to be solved. There may be material and physiological causes to them, but they cannot be completely cured with a simple procedure, nor can they be argued away with facts and logic. There may be common signs and symptoms to watch out for, but they manifest in different ways that are unique to the person who has them.
Mental health issues are deeply human problems that, at times, can be irrational. Therefore, it is essential that they are approached with a deep sense of humanity in the form of empathy. It is that skill that allows people to not just understand but feel what others are feeling.
The capacity to empathise with workers going through mental health issues lets MHFA practitioners establish a strong connection with their colleagues. Through that connection, mental health first aiders can more quickly and more accurately determine if there is cause for concern then act appropriately and decisively.
Expert Training and Development of Essential MHFA Skills
Too many workers are suffering in silence with their mental health issues. When employees suffer, so do the organisations they work in. Mental health first aiders can help bridge the gap between employees and employers when it comes to dealing with such issues. However, they can only do their job if they undergo the right training to develop the skills necessary for such responsibilities.
The Health & Safety Dept provides the expert mental health first aid training your company needs. With our comprehensive courses, your staff will be fully equipped for the important task of managing and promoting mental health issues at work. Contact us today to get started.