Why we all need mental health first responders in the workplace

2 minutes reading time

Imagine if you could see anxiety, depression, OCD or an eating disorder like a dark cloud hovering over a colleague in the office.

Unfortunately, the debilitating nature of mental health disorders is that they’re invisible silent attackers and their symptoms therefore can go largely unnoticed.

But now, thanks to Mental Health First Aid courses accredited by the Royal Society for Public Health, employees can now receive training by a quality assured instructor to watch for certain behaviours and provide support to their fellow colleagues if they notice anything unusual.

When we think of first aid, it’s usually in relation to treating physical injuries. Trained first aiders know what to do if someone cuts their leg, faints or starts choking. But what if someone is behaving out of character? Perhaps they’re reacting to a stressful situation at work, an unexpected event in their personal life, or even talking about ending their life?

First aid at work is common place. The Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations, introduced in 1981, require employers to provide adequate and appropriate first-aid equipment, facilities and people, so employees can be given immediate help if they are injured or taken ill at work. However, this only covers physical injury or illness.

According to Government figures, 77% of UK employees experience symptoms of poor mental health at some point in their lives and 60% experience a mental health problem due to work or where work was a contributing factor at some point in their career. These staggering figures suggest mental health first aid is far more likely to be needed than physical first aid.

Employers should also be encouraging more men to take part in mental health first aid training. Sadly, the well documented stigma attached to male mental health means that this might not be an easy push. This is in spite of the fact that men in the UK are three times more likely than women to end their own lives.

Times are changing however. Several senior executives of large companies, both men and women like the CEO of Lloyds Bank Antonio Horta-Osorio and Virgin Money CEO Jayne-Anne Gadhia, have come forward recently to speak out about their own personal battles with mental health. This is a step in the right direction and should empower others to follow suit.

With mental health now taking the limelight in boardrooms, mental health first aid training provides an inclusive opportunity for employees in any organisation to not only to make a valuable contribution to employee wellbeing but also to combat the surrounding stigma and ultimately, save lives.

About the author

Lorna Feeney is a Mental Health First Aid Trainer at Marsh and Jelf.

Jelf is one of the UK’s leading advisory businesses, specialising in insurance, risk and employee health and benefits for businesses and individuals. It began delivering mental health first aid training earlier this year and has trained over 40 of its employees to date.

Also by Lorna Feeney

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