Your Guide to Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace

Mental Health First Aid

Mental health has slowly become a priority for businesses when setting out their employee wellbeing strategies, but statistics and surveys reveal just how much of an issue it still is. 70 million working days per year are down to poor mental health, costing UK businesses around £42 billion each year.
With 1 in 6.8 people experiencing mental health problems at work, there is clearly something being lost in translation between employers and their staff. Mental health can still be seen as a taboo subject for a lot of people, meaning open discussion can be difficult. A general work cultural shift is needed more than ever!
Every business takes a different approach to handling mental health in the workplace, but one that is becoming increasingly popular are the Mental Health First Aid courses.
So, what actually is Mental Health First Aid? Does it help the current climate of poor mental health? And at what cost?

What is Mental Health First Aid?

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is a training programme designed to teach employees how to understand, identify, and support someone suffering with their mental health. It provides staff with the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of what mental health is and what affects mental wellbeing.
MHFA was developed and launched in England in 2006, originating from Australia, by the organisation Mental Health First Aid England. Its development revolved around raising awareness of mental health and to reduce the stigma around mental health issues.
The aim was to get mental health first aiders to act as you would for physical first aid. They are to act in moments of crisis or distress until professional help is provided. You don’t qualify as a counsellor or psychotherapist!
Undergoing mental health first aid training will provide employees with:

  • Practical skills, knowledge, and confidence to recognise symptoms of mental health issues
  • The ability to effectively support anyone in mental distress – respond, listen, reassure
  • Provide information of further professional support and advice
  • A comprehension of mental health issues – understanding depression, anxiety, suicide prevention, psychosis
  • Understanding their own mental wellbeing


How does it work?

The two-day course is divided into 4 sections to provide a wide understanding of different issues:

  • Mental Health First Aid – mental health and depression
  • Depression and suicidal crisis
  • Anxiety, personality disorders, eating disorders, self-harm
  • Psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders

As outlined on the MHFA England website, the organisation has established a 5-step easy to follow action plan:

  1. “Approach the person, assess and assist with any crisis”
  2. “Listen and communicate non-judgementally”
  3. “Give support and information”
  4. “Encourage the person to get appropriate professional help”
  5. “Encourage other supports”

Underlining each step is the aim of changing the overall perspective on mental health in the workplace, making mental health just as important as physical wellbeing.

How is Mental Health First Aid important?

In comparison to physical health, we often view mental health as less important – it’s not something we can physically see and fix simply. When our physical health is poor, so is our ability to enjoy life. The same applies to mental health. Both change from day to day, never stay the same, and require just as much attention.
Mental health and wellbeing are still a huge issue in the UK, at home and in the workplace. The leading mental health charity Mind outlines just how bad the climate still is. Around 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem every year, with only 1 in 6 reporting these problems.
MHFA training can be a proactive way that businesses can improve their mental wellbeing strategies, to promote healthy work environments and protect those employed.

What type of businesses use it?

MHFA is a programme that can be adopted by any organisation. However, due to cost, it has previously been more accessible to larger firms. There has now been an increased interest from smaller organisations and different sectors, such as construction or finance sectors, or governmental departments (Department of Work and Pensions have trained over 1000).
Below are examples of businesses that have added MHFA to their wellbeing strategies:

  • Royal Mail: Trained around 1000 employees to contribute towards their Because Healthy Minds Matter wellbeing strategy. Their strategy was developed to increase awareness, decrease stigma, signpost to tools and support, know where to get help in a crisis.


  • Channel 4: 88% of employees agreed they had learnt how to spot warning signs of mental health issues, 93% agreed they would now practice more mindfulness at work and personal routines, 78% said they had learnt more about the influence of social media over young people’s mental health. The programme had helped employees to gain a deeper understanding of each other and their own mental health.

(Reveal the impact of covid on expat mental health)

What are the benefits of Mental Health First Aid?

Below are some benefits of investing in Mental Health First Aid:

  • Reduces stigma
  • Promotes open discussion around asking for help
  • Staff feel more comfortable reporting mental health as their reason for sickness absence
  • Helps to stop early warning signs – proactive rather than reactive
  • Prevents a crisis from happening – suicide / self-harm
  • Reduces absenteeism & presenteeism
  • Reduces discrimination


What are the disadvantages of Mental Health First Aid?

“My main problem with it is that organisations see it as a tick in the box” (Alan Bradshaw, business psychologist)
MHFA can improve an organisation’s employee wellbeing strategy but too much reliance on just one programme it can negatively impact a company’s approach to mental health. Listed below are a few disadvantages from MHFA:

  • The strain on the mental health of the people trained – requires the skill of knowing when to be empathetic vs apathetic
  • People trained can take on too much responsibility – drawn into a counsellor role without the qualifications
  • Costly – often considered a luxury for most businesses making it an unlikely benefit for most employees – leads to those trained being thinly spread across different departments


Wellbeing and Engage

Although offering training in Mental Health First Aid can help promote awareness in the workplace, to be useful, it must be part of a bigger developed employee benefits wellbeing strategy within a context that ensures cultural change. MHFA alone will not transform the psychological wellbeing of an organisation.
The conversation around mental wellbeing must stay alive, and this can be achieved by companies providing multiple levels of support and different policies. Find out what else companies can offer and create a safe work environment.
Contact us through Engage Health Group where we offer free no-obligation advice and learn more on the importance of mental wellbeing in the workplace.

Eleanor Chilvers

Eleanor Chilvers

Eleanor started at Engage in 2021, and is now a Digital Content Writer after studying BA English Literature at University of Sussex for the last 3 years.

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