Why mental health first aiders are important at work

Discover the critical role of mental health first aiders in the workplace. Learn why mental health first aiders are important at work, and how their presence is vital for supporting colleagues and fostering a positive work environment.

author

Bobby Ahmed

Managing Director Bobby is a highly experienced Employment Law Solicitor and the Managing Director at Neathouse Partners. He has a wealth of knowledge on all aspects of Employment Law & HR, with a particular specialism in TUPE and redundancy.

Date

20 May 2024

Updated

16 July 2024
4 min read
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Why mental health first aiders are important at work
7:34

Since the world moved out of lockdown following the Covid-19 pandemic, mental health has been brought to the forefront of conversations. According to mental health charity Mind, 1 in 4 of us are likely to experience a mental health problem each year in England.

With mental health services in the UK facing increasing pressure and demand, it’s no surprise that this can have an impact on employees' ability to work and their happiness levels in their roles.

There are a number of factors that can contribute to poor mental health in the workplace, such as poor staffing levels, feeling overworked, a lack of support for staff and a toxic working environment. These factors can lead to greater stress if left unaddressed.

Mental ill-health is the single largest cause of disability in the UK. It's therefore important that companies give employees someone to turn to when they’re struggling with their mental health, who they can speak to openly and in confidence.

Businesses need to ensure that they’re looking after the mental health of their staff, so they can ensure employee well-being and business success.

Reducing the stigma around mental health and having dedicated people to talk to can help prevent employees from struggling in silence. Instead, they'll feel safe to be able to approach the topic and resolve any problems and feelings causing them worry.

In this article, we'll explore why mental health first aiders are important at work.

 

What do mental health first aiders do?


Mental health first aiders play a very important role in creating a healthy working environment. They're a point of contact for employees experiencing mental health challenges.

Their role involves engaging in initial conversations and helping people to find access to appropriate support. Mental health first aiders are trained to listen without judgement and provide guidance, but they are not professional counsellors.

Mental health first aiders are also trained to spot early signs and symptoms of mental health issues in others, and start supportive conversations with people who they may believe to be in distress. They can assess the risk of self harm or suicide, document anything important if a critical incident occurs, and involve emergency services if they are needed.


Why have mental health first aiders at work?


As an average, each business sees every employee take 3.36 mental health days off per year, which costs the UK economy £12.7bn. Training staff to be aware of their own and others' mental health is great for fostering an open, communicative and supportive working culture in a business. Having mental health first aiders means that employees have someone to speak to when they have mental health concerns, and this can prevent problems from becoming worse and enable quicker recovery times.

Getting employees to participate in a course for mental health first aid can raise awareness about different types of mental illness, and give them confidence in speaking to others about mental health. It reduces stigma, and helps workers to identify the signs of mental illness, and respond accordingly. It also encourages early intervention, which can aid in recovery.

By increasing knowledge and awareness, both managers and employees can communicate about mental health openly and comfortably, and employers can provide appropriate support where it's needed.

Sometimes, those with poor mental health may not realise they are struggling, or they may be hesitant and reluctant to seek help. An informed and supportive response from a worker's employer can greatly improve the outcome for an employee facing mental health challenges.

Studies indicate that better management of mental health in UK workplaces could decrease losses due to mental illness by 30%, saving a total of £8 billion annually.


What mental health first aiders cannot do


Taking a mental health first aid course doesn't give a person the training or right to act as a mental health professional such as a therapist.

It's important that employers follow HSE guidelines for managing stress in the workplace, as they have a legal duty to protect employees from stress and the negative impact this can have on mental health.

If more support is required than what a mental health first aider can provide, then a professional referral for help should be sought.


Actions employers can take


To make sure everyone stays safe and healthy at work, it's important to consider both physical and mental health in risk assessments. This means not only looking at things like hazards or injuries, but also understanding and managing mental health challenges that people might face. Employees may be unsure about their company's approach to mental health. Not responding appropriately to mental health issues could lead to legal issues, so it's crucial to get this right.

Employers should treat mental health just as seriously as physical health by having enough mental health first aiders available, in the same way that first aiders are there to help people with physical injuries. Here are some steps your workplace can take:

  • Have trained mental health first aiders available, across different business locations.
  • Ensure there are enough mental health first aiders to accommodate for holidays and absences.
  • Provide mental health awareness training and details of resources available to all employees.
  • Adjust HR policies to better support individuals with mental health conditions, including conducting mental health risk assessments and creating workplace wellbeing policies.
  • Have a clear and easy-to-understand mental health wellbeing policy.


Is there a legal requirement for mental health first aiders?

Having mental health first aiders in your company isn't mandatory, and there is no legislation to say that employers have to have them, but it is strongly recommended.

Employers should treat mental health in the same way as physical health, and provide a safe working environment that promotes well-being.

Employers should try to have equal numbers of physical first aiders and mental health first aiders within their organisations.


How to become a mental health first aider


If you're an employer or HR professional considering accredited mental health first aid training for managers or staff at your company, it's best to get in touch with a reputable course provider such as Neathouse Partners.

There are often on-site and remote training options available. It's crucial that employers, managers, and supervisors understand the signs of mental ill-health and stress in the workplace.

Learning how to support employees struggling with mental health issues is essential in today's workforce. Equipping staff with mental health first aid skills fosters an open environment where discussions about mental health are welcomed and supported.

 

Your health and safety compliance partner


If you have questions on mental health training, or other aspects of health and safety compliance?

Neathouse Partners can help you to stay compliant with the law and keep you informed of health and safety legislation changes as and when they happen.

Get in touch via our contact form.

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