In a world that increasingly recognises the importance of looking after our mental health, the role of mental health first aiders has never been more important. MHFAs are not a ‘silver bullet’, but implemented within a complete workplace wellbeing strategy can really make a difference in terms of culture change, people feeling accepted and supported and also leading to numerous benefits to the organisation from a business perspective too.

The real danger in today’s world is of MHFAiders® becoming a ‘tick box exercise.’ This is why I work with my clients to ensure that mental health first aiders are implemented with care and attention.

This blog looks at the importance of not just ‘encouraging’ self-care of MHFAs, but actually making it happen.

Being deeply involved in mental health first aid training as well as being an active mental health first aider myself, I understand the emotional toll this responsibility can take. We may not wear capes, but we are superheroes in our own right, quietly offering a lifeline to those in mental distress.

But here’s the thing: To be effective in helping others, we must first take care of ourselves. It’s like the pre-flight safety announcement – put on your oxygen mask before assisting others. In the realm of mental health first aid, self-care is our oxygen mask.

The Emotional Toll of Mental Health First Aid

Mental health first aiders are often the first line of support for individuals grappling with mental health crises. Our hearts and minds are constantly engaged, empathising with their pain, offering guidance, and trying to make a difference. This can be emotionally draining, and if we neglect self-care, we risk burnout and compassion fatigue.

Setting Boundaries: Your Shield of Protection

One of the key self-care strategies is setting boundaries. Boundaries are like shields that protect your emotional well-being. It’s essential to recognise your limits and communicate them clearly to those you’re assisting. Understand that it’s perfectly okay to say no or take a step back when you need to recharge. This is also an important point that should be made clear within the Mental Health First Aid Policy and Guidance. That the role is voluntary, and guidance of who to inform should someone need to step back from the role, particularly if their wellbeing isn’t in a great place.

Managing Stress: Your resilience building tool

Stress is an inevitable part of mental health first aid. Listening to another person often means we will take on some of that stress and worry. It is therefore important that we are proactively managing our own stress levels. How we manage it makes all the difference. Exercise, meditation, and deep breathing can help alleviate stress. Remember, taking care of your body is taking care of your mind. From an employer’s perspective it is good practice to have proactive conversations with the MHFA team about their stress levels, as well as ensuring their knowledge of effective stress management techniques.

Seeking Support: You’re not alone

Being a mental health first aider doesn’t mean you have to bear the emotional burden alone. Seek support from fellow first aiders, supervisors, or mental health professionals. Talking about your experiences and feelings can provide much-needed relief. When you train with MHFA England, as part of the benefits and support package MHFAiders receive 24/7 support through SHOUT. SHOUT understand the role of the MHFA and so makes those conversations a little bit easier.

Personal Stories of Self-Care

Here are some brilliant examples of self-care practices from a combination of mental health first aiders, MHFA Instructors and other wellbeing professionals with who I have had the pleasure to work with in recent weeks:

  • “I have started to put my phone away and pick up a book when I take a break. I thought I was having a break but realised mindless scrolling, or worse, checking my emails wasn’t actually giving me the break I needed!”
  • “I’ve believed for a long time that with two young children there’s barely time for me. Changing my mindset around the little ‘moments’ of unused time- such as the 10 minutes sat in the car picking my children up from school or one of their after school activities. It’s amazing how these 10 minutes add up and I can choose to listen to a podcast, read, do some breathing, or sometimes I just sit.”
  • “Bringing mindfulness into the day to day has made a difference for me whether it be mindful walking, mindful eating or mindfully pegging out the washing! I genuinely feel so much calmer and ‘present.’
  • “A good sort out of my garage helps me to have a clear mind!”
  • “I set boundaries but I now communicate these with my family. I work on the phone most of the day talking to people. When I get home I just sometimes need some quiet time to reset. Rather than getting frustrated at my family needing me, I let them know I am taking 20 minutes and then I will be with them. It works a treat.”
To Conclude

Mental health first aid can make a real difference on both an individual level and to support a great workplace culture , but it’s not without its demands. Self-care is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. By setting boundaries, managing stress, and seeking support, we ensure that MHFAs can continue to be the empathetic and effective mental health first aiders our communities rely on. So, take a moment to prioritise yourself; it’s not just a gift to you but to all those you aim to help.