Peter Lewis

Management Consultant, Mental Health First Aid Instructor

  • People Management
  • Mental Health

– 21 May, 2020

Mental Health First Aid For Employees - It’s Essential

Most people know how to put someone in the recovery position or tie a sling to support an injured arm. Some may remember how to give CPR or mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Others may have learned how to rescue a person who is drowning. What we’re less likely to be taught is how to help someone who is having a panic attack.

We’re often taught first-aid as children, through school or youth groups, because they are seen as valuable life skills. What we weren’t taught was how to treat someone who is stressed and struggling to cope, someone who is depressed, anxious or even suicidal. Yet it’s these mental health troubles that we are more likely to come across in our working lives than physical ones. Mental health problems are one of the main causes of the overall disease burden worldwide.

Around one in every four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, with one in every six people in England reporting experience of a common mental health problem, such as anxiety and depression, in any given week. Around one in five have experienced suicidal thoughts at some point in their life. But the stigma associated with mental health issues, and the related lack of awareness and education, likely contributes to the fact two-thirds of people with a known mental health disorder never seek help from a health professional.

There is light, though. More and more people are opening up about their own personal experiences with mental health issues, whether it was a one-off situation or an ongoing battle. The world we’re living in - one of lockdown fatigue, loneliness, stress and anxiety - is shining that light even brighter into the shadowy corners where stigma lurks.

Almost 13 million work days lost to mental ill health last year

But to help that light to shine, we must all educate ourselves in what good mental health looks like, and how we can both aim for it for ourselves, and support those who need help. Here, business leaders have an important role to play - to not only support employees to open up and ask for help when it’s needed, but to be able to spot the signs of distress in their colleagues and be in a place to provide mental health first aid.

The UK government’s Health and Safety Executive reports that there was a total of 12.8 million working days lost to work-related stress, depression and anxiety in 2018/19. Stress, depression and anxiety accounted for 44 percent of all work-related ill health cases and 54 percent of all working days lost due to ill health. The main work factors contributing to this ill health include workload pressures, including tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support. These are clearly factors that the organisation itself can impact, and work to reduce.

By building a workplace culture that encourages openness, that is supportive, and that is not afraid to speak about mental ill health, the C-suite can help to lead the way in reducing the prevalence of work-related stress, depression and anxiety.

Mental Health First Aid training can provide support

One way to help is with Mental Health First Aid training. It’s certainly helped me. I became unwell six years ago, and was supported by many people, both professionals and my own network. It made me realise that we could all help each other if we knew how to spot the symptoms, and how to support our fellow humans through these difficult times.

I completed my MHFA training three years ago, wanting to be better equipped to support people who were experiencing mental health issues, both inside and outside of work. MHFA training teaches us how to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill health and provide help on a first aid basis. It doesn’t teach you to be a therapist; like physical first aid, it teaches you to listen, reassure and respond, especially in a crisis. It boosts knowledge and confidence in dealing with mental health issues, and helps raise awareness and reduce the stigma around mental ill health more widely.

At Chaucer, we have been rolling out Mental Health First Aid and awareness training across our business and now also to our clients to ensure that we have the right support in place for our people, the teams they work in and those they collaborate with.

People do care. People want to help. You matter.

If you need urgent mental health support, call one of the mental health helplines listed on the NHS website.


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