Ensuring your workplace is equipped to handle mental health issues amongst employees is a hugely important task. Mental Health First Aid Training (MHFA) has become an increasingly popular way to provide employees with a basic understanding of how to recognise, respond and support people who are struggling, However, implementing MHFA training and ensuring that it continues to be safe and effective in your workplace requires some thought before building this approach into your workplace wellbeing strategy. Read on as we bring you some key points of preparation HR directors, wellbeing leads, and organisational training leads should consider before implementing MHFA training within their business.
Understand how Mental Health First Aid integrates into your overall wellbeing strategy.
In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing work environment, it has become more common place for organisations to consider how to support employees mental health and wellbeing. Research has shown that a positive workplace culture that supports and encourages employee wellbeing can result in increased engagement, productivity, and overall job satisfaction. During Covid employers were more mindful than ever before of the need to support wellbeing and initiatives such as Mental Health First Aid training were often seen as the panacea to a problem that can be nuanced and complex. However, looking after the wellbeing of your teams and leaders takes more than training a few people to respond to someone who has reached crisis point. Ensuring you have a wellbeing approach that responds to known psycho-social hazards in the workplace such as: lack of role clarity, poor supervisor support, unmanageable workloads, poor relationships and unfair working practices to name a few, should form the foundations of your strategy. Mental health first aid training should be part of a broader offer and can be a valuable addition to your overall wellbeing strategy, providing team members with the tools they need to recognize and respond to mental health issues early on.
Identify the potential challenges of having mental health first aiders and plan for eventualities
As we seek to integrate mental health first aiders into the workplace, it is crucial that we anticipate and plan for the challenges that may arise. One potential challenge is ensuring that our first aiders feel confident and engaged in their role. Receiving training is just the starting point and having the confidence and ability to safely support someone comes with practice and reflection. This is why it is helpful to consider how you will support your mental health first aiders as they are called on to help. It is also essential to establish protocols for protecting confidentiality What assurances can you give someone who comes for help that there problems are not going to be aired in the staff room and where are the break points that mean things need to be escalated and who to? What about time management? If a MHFA trained employee is called on to support someone, how will they be supported to manage their work? Is there a cap on how long they can spend in this role? Is it written into their job description? What do they need to report to their manager without breaking confidence? Finally, we must also acknowledge that mental health first aiders may encounter triggering personal experiences while serving in their role. This means that we need to provide them with the necessary support and resources to work through any challenging situations they may encounter. Through thoughtful planning and execution, it is possible to create a supportive and effective mental health first aid program that benefits everyone involved but it is important to have these conversations before launching your MHFA champions into the workplace.
Outline any necessary policies and procedures that need to be in place
When it comes to running a business or organisation, creating policies and procedures may seem tedious and time-consuming. However, having them in place is essential, especially when it comes to safety, risk management, and legal obligations. Policies and procedures ensure that everyone is on the same page and knows how to operate within expected guidelines. It helps prevent accidents and mishaps that could impact the well-being of employees or clients and protect the organisation from potential lawsuits and legal issues. As such, outlining necessary policies and procedures around some of the issues mentioned previously is crucial to both the success of the business and the safety and protection of those involved. If a Mental health first aider was involved in supporting someone who later went on to commit suicide, your policies and procedures should be robust enough to help protect them from any complaint or inquest into the death. It may sound extreme but worst case situations do happen.
Develop an education plan on how best to deliver the program.
When it comes to Mental Health First Aid, it’s not just about who you train, but how you train them. Developing an education plan that ensures ongoing CPD and supervision for Mental Health First Aiders is crucial. But the question is, how can we do this effectively? The answer lies in providing not only initial training but also ongoing development opportunities that keep Mental Health First Aiders up to date with the latest research and best practices. Equally important is providing them with the supervision and support necessary to deal with the challenges they may face in their role. By doing so, we can create a network of Mental Health First Aiders who are confident and capable of providing support to others in a way that is safe for both parties. At The Thrive Lab our Mental Health First Aid training comes with a a package of ongoing support for exactly this reason.
Consider the practicalities of offering mental health first aid support
Offering mental health first aid support requires careful consideration of practicalities to ensure the best outcome for those seeking help. It’s essential to create a safe and private space to talk to those in need. Will this be an online space, a physical space within the office or a walk and talk ouside? As mentioned before, it’s crucial to allocate enough time to both parties which may have an impact on their workload. How can you manage the stress of the person providing MHFA so that they don’t find it an onerous role to fulfil? How does someone know who to contact, what kinds of things should they contact them for and how will you foster engagement with the program. What we know is that the more stressed and in need of support we become, the less we are able to recognise what is happening and ask for support. What communication strategies do you have in place to help people understand what your MHFA is for, how to access it and how it might help them? Knowing who to contact and how to set up a conversation is essential. The goal for MHFA is to offer assistance while recognising the limits of your expertise. If you are unable to offer the help required, it’s also essential to know the best professionals or organisations to signpost individuals to. Putting these practicalities into consideration will ensure that the mental health first aid support you offer is both effective and beneficial.
Provide leaders and managers with guidance about their role in supporting MHFA at work
Mark was a recently trained mental health first aider who worked shifts. On a nightshift he was asked to speak to a colleague who needed some support. The conversation took over an hour and Mark was unable to complete all his tasks that shift. His manager complained that he had spent too long talking to his colleague, wanted to know what had been said and rolled his eyes at the mention of mental health fist aid support in the workplace. Needless to say, Mark is unsure about whether he should continue being a mental health first aider!
Your leaders and managers will be critical to the success of implementing a MHFA program at work. They don’t have to have done the training themselves but they need to understand how they can support a team member who has taken on this role, be offered guidance on how they can support the implementation of the program and role model compassionate leadership so that a positive culture for wellbeing is seen as being important across the organisation. Overall, the behaviours of supervisors, managers and leaders can have a huge impact on employee wellbeing and mental health. Providing leadership training, mentoring and support to managers and leaders can be hugely effective in reducing stress, anxiety and attrition in teams who are struggling with poor management practices. If it is a choice between MHFA training and leadership and management training, do the latter first as this will improve workplace morale, productivity, and foster a healthier working environment.
So, in summary, implementing Mental Health First Aid within the workplace, can be a helpful tool as part of your workplace wellbeing strategy but it should not be seen as the overall solution. By understanding both the pros and cons of having MHFA in your workplace and how it fits into your overall wellbeing strategy, you are more likely to ensure that MHFA is delivered in the most beneficial way. It is only by considering these complexities that we can develop strategies for both introducing MHFA initiatives safely and effectively as well as sustaining them over time. The key is to focus on building ongoing support mechanisms for those going through training, providing regular education updates on mental health issues, investing in resources for trained first-aiders, and creating an environment which actively encourages open conversations around mental health – this will facilitate a culture of acceptance and understanding which unlocks greater potential for long term success. We now challenge you with asking yourself: What are the pro’s and cons of having MHFA in your workplace? Let us know below!