Here’s what you need to know about Mental Health First Aid Training (MHFA) in the workplace.
If a worker were to experience a physical illness or injury while at work, it’s likely they would be treated by a physical first aider—someone who would provide them with immediate first aid until professional help could be received.
Though not a strict requirement under Australian Health and Safety laws, it’s a usual practice for workplaces to have one or more staff members trained in physical first aid. In fact, as an employer, you have a legal duty to protect the welfare of your employees. What this means, though, goes beyond a responsibility to protect employees from physical health and safety concerns. What employers really need to be asking themselves is whether or not they pay as much attention to mental health first aid as they do physical first aid.
The need for mental health training
If there’s been a silver lining of the COVID pandemic, it’s that the importance of mental health training has been increasingly recognised in workplaces across the globe—for good reason. Prior to the pandemic, around 1 in every 5 Australians were experiencing a mental illness in any given year. Now, rates of mental health conditions have risen exponentially and, with it, the need for Mental Health First Aiders. A 2020 study revealed some startling statistics, with 78% of the study’s participants reporting that their mental health had worsened since COVID-19. There’s still a way to go, however, until mental health training is at the forefront of all corporations.
We know that mental health does not discriminate. Anyone, from the CEO to the intern, can develop a mental health condition. It’s no longer enough just to train your leaders in MHFA and consider that box checked. A team perspective on mental health means looking after your people at all levels of the organisation. We’d encourage each department to have at least one Mental Health First Aider who can support team members who are developing a mental health condition or experiencing a worsening of an existing condition. Ultimately, mental health is a companywide matter, and all employees should be involved in mental health dialogue.
Why Mental Health First Aid?
There are certain signs and indications that a person may be experiencing a mental health condition but, unlike physical health conditions or injuries, mental health conditions can be more difficult to spot. This doesn’t mean that mental illnesses can be ignored or pushed aside to deal with later. When immediate mental health first aid is not offered, these conditions can exacerbate and develop into something more serious.
Maybe you have noticed that an employee or co-worker has been behaving differently lately. They’ve been calling in sick more often, they’ve been short-tempered, and it seems they’re finding it difficult to concentrate on tasks. You’d want to help, but would you know how? Would you feel confident to support a co-worker who came to you with panic attacks, after the loss of a family member or another stressful life event? Would you be able to support yourself?
This is where MFHA training comes in. MFHA can assist you in building the skills and strategies needed to support a person who may be:
- Dealing with aggressive behaviours
- Experiencing depression, anxiety or panic attacks
- Experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviours
- Going through trauma or traumatic events
- Dealing with the effects of substance use
- Dealing with severe psychotic states
What is a Mental Health First Aider?
Committing to MHFA training doesn’t mean training an employee to be a doctor or psychologist, and they aren’t expected to cue all mental health conditions. What it does mean is ensuring at least one of your team members is confident in recognising the signs of mental illness, is able to have conversations about self-harm, trauma or substance abuse and, importantly, can support colleagues in finding further, professional assistance. Despite the clear benefits of having Mental Health First Aiders in the workplace, as well as the increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and ROI that you’re likely to see, MHFA training only occasionally tops the workplace agenda. The businesses we do see investing in this training end up with happier employees and a more positive workplace culture.
If you’re wondering whether your own organisation should have a mental health first aider, the answer is yes. Some employers are leading the way for mental health first aid training in the workplace, but we believe that every Australian business should have at least one Mental Health First Aider. Depending on the size of your business, you might need more.
Taking the step to train staff members at every level in MHFA is crucial on the journey to a mentally well workplace, but it shouldn’t be a standalone or token gesture. Mental Health First Aiders should enhance your existing mental wellbeing policies and procedures, and should complement other mental health awareness training you initiate.
Ready to take the next step?
The values of MHFA— equipping people with skills to help peers, breaking down the stigma around mental illnesses and normalising mental health dialogue— align strongly with Mentally Well Workplaces own values and mission. Mentally Well Workplaces offer 12-hour Mental Health First Aid courses delivered by an incredible team of trainers who have over 25 years of experience. Since our inception, we’ve supported organisations like Bridgestone, Auto & General, Bush Heritage and NSW Treasury in training their staff in MFHA. This year alone, we’ve delivered 15 MHFA courses to 141 Australian employees across various businesses. 2021 also saw us partner with Deakin Business School to deliver a training program that would reach small to medium business owners through one of their major support systems— their advisors, accountants or financial professionals. So far, this partnership has seen over 2700 business advisors trained or enrolled in Mental Health First Aid and Relationship Building Training.