Health & Safety

Why I am becoming a mental health first aider

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I have always considered myself a supporter of good mental health initiatives in the workplace. And sometimes, I even write about mental health on the People HR blog.


But after attending Mad World 2018 in London last week, I realised that it’s not enough to simply tell people that mental health is important. And so, I’ve decided to become our company’s first dedicated mental health first aider.


I’ll explain why in more detail shortly, but first, let me introduce you to the concept of mental health first aid.

What is a mental health first aider


A regular first aider will provide essential basic support for physical injuries while a patient waits for more advanced medical help. Similarly, a mental health first aider can provide basic support for a person with mental injuries, until they receive more advanced help from a dedicated service.


Mental Health First Aid England says that mental health first aiders have:


 * Practical skills to spot triggers and signs of mental health issues

 * Confidence to step in, reassure and support during a crisis

 * Knowledge to help somebody recover their health and find further support


But how helpful is a mental health first aider? The answer isn’t clear, and the experts don’t always agree.

The limited evidence supporting mental health first aid


While many experts enthusiastically promote the adoption of mental health first aid training for the workplace, there are many who appear somewhat sceptical. Or, rather, they feel its impact is limited.


For example, Professor Sir Cary Cooper says that “you won’t harness what wellbeing can offer if you don’t embed it in your broader culture”. He says that this means thinking beyond line manager training, and mental health first aid training.


But while academic research is still fairly limited, the Health and Safety Executive has published a neat summary of the evidence for mental health first aid. And their report does conclude that mental health first aid training consistently raises employees’ awareness of mental ill-health conditions – which, sometimes, is half the battle, considering mental health issues are often difficult to see with our eyes.

Having a mental health first aider is better than not having one


So why did I take the plunge?


Well, the reason I have decided to become a mental health first aider, is not because I did a detailed analysis of pros and cons. Nor was it because somebody convinced me it was the right thing to do. In fact, it was inspired by something that Dr Shaun Davis said at Mad World 2018.


He said that employers need to take action to tackle mental health right now. Because “if you wait for perfection, you’ll be waiting a long long time.”


 Dr Shaun Davis, Mad World 2018


If you wait for perfection, you’ll be waiting a long long time” – Dr Shaun Davis, Mad World 2018


And that’s why I decided to push the agenda of mental health first aid for our organisation – because I knew it was something that we could do, and that we could do right now. It took less than 30 minutes to get approval from management and book the course, and I can already see that it’s started a positive discussion at work.

I want you to act right now to support positive mental health at work


I don’t think for a moment that becoming a mental health first aider is going to suddenly make People HR’s workforce immune to mental health difficulties. But I do know that it is a practical step forward that will give us new tools, raise awareness, and start a deeper discussion.


It was only a very small step. But it is a step we are actually taking. And I am starting to understand the value of acting now, rather than waiting for the perfect plan.


So my advice to you, is to think of something you can do today, right now, to support positive mental health at work. And get out there and do it! Tell me in the comments what you’re going to do. Let’s start a discussion.