Watching a brilliant conversation on BBC Breakfast this morning lead me to highlight the benefits of MHFAs in the workplace. Natasha Devon spoke about how, if there were people trained to understand mental health, not only would there be an absence of ‘throw away comments’ which can worsen what an individual is experiencing. It may actually highlight the need for professional help and that mental health first aider has the skills to open up that initial conversation and signpost the support available. A MHFA from Yorkshire Water (who are seeing such benefits they have now trained up 700 in their workplace) was able to talk of a number of instances where in the last year alone his skills have come into play. Not just in work but also with friends and family.
 
MHFAs are not trained to diagnose and their role is not an attempt to impersonate a medical professional. Their role is to be able to spot the symptoms. To have the confidence to open up a quality conversation with someone and be there to listen non judgementally. Their role is to guide that individual to the appropriate support. And have the relevant training to know what is and isn’t helpful to say when supporting an individual.
 
The role of the MHFA works really well alongside existing workplace EAPs (employee assistance programmes) It is a mental health focus where the aim is to get people talking and guided to the appropriate support and in many cases get the help needed before things spiral into something much worse. It is a proactive approach to try and tackle problems much sooner.
 
While today is the day that the debate in Parliament takes place to make it mandatory for every workplace to have a Mental Health First Aider (just as you do with physical first aid); you may be wondering what the benefits are to you and your organisation…..
 
1) Education reduces the stigma by dispelling many myths. Those trained have a better understanding of the reality of mental illness which helps to create a positive culture that is accepting of mental illness and promotes mental health.
 
2) The signs of emerging illness are spotted much quicker. Early intervention usually means a faster recovery time. This means more people in the business functioning well. Quite often when spotted early enough the right support structure can be put in place to help that individual before their mental health deteriorates to a point where they’re off sick.
 
3) The more people trained in this the closer the organisation becomes to creating an open and positive work environment where people can ask for help knowing they’ll get supported. This is because people are educated and have a much better understanding of mental health. For me this is something that is relevant for all line managers and anyone that has people responsibilities- not just a designated MHFA.
 
4) A positive, engaged and happy workforce means greater productivity. Sharing a problem and being supported makes for a positive work environment where individuals can flourish. Happy people results in happy customers
 
5) The skills learnt by an MHFA are not just relevant for the workplace, but for personal use too. It is a great investment in your people’s development, especially when what they learn can be put into practice outside of work too!
 
A number of organisations are leading the way on this- Yorkshire Water, Bupa UK Insurance, Channel 4, WHSmith and Royal Mail- to name just a few. An increase of almost 200% in knowledge and understanding around mental health; having a workforce that are more mindful of their own wellbeing; numerous examples where starting that conversation has meant adjustments being made to help the individual before they go off sick; are just some of the successes boasted by these companies.
 
Training an MHFA in the workplace alone to ‘tick a box’ won’t achieve the great results seen by some of the companies above. But using it alongside existing EAPs and having great follow up in place with leaders leading by example, will work to create a culture change that embraces the mental health of all employees so everyone can flourish in the workplace.