It’s not hard to see why there’s a mental health crisis afflicting the UK and much of the world. The combination of wars, political divides, the pandemic and cost pressures on households have created a hostile environment for many people, and tangible concern for the future. In the midst of this, a new generation is also demanding better working environments, and the jobs market means businesses have to listen. All of this is an impetus for serious change.

Mental health first aid isn’t a solution to these problems, but it is a useful starting point for individuals and businesses. By detecting mental health issues and providing vital interventions and support, mental health first aid training helps employees feel valued, and builds connections. By stepping in and addressing developing problems, you can prevent them from snowballing, and ensure employees are happier, healthier and more productive.

Mental health crisis in the UK

There is a general awareness that the country is in the midst of a mental health crisis. A variety of issues, from living standards to COVID to wars and politics, have made the past few years an unprecedented period in modern history. At the same time, the ability of the health service to address these issues has fallen short of demand. These problems are persistent, and inevitably make their way into the workplace, impacting on productivity.

14.7% of people in the UK report experiencing mental health problems in the workplace, including 19.8% of all women. 12.7% of all sick days can be attributed to mental health conditions, while almost 50% of all work-related ill health can be attributed to stress, depression or anxiety. When it comes to industries, health professionals, teachers, protective service personnel and customer service personnel report having the most problems with their mental health.

The likely underreporting of these issues as a result of ongoing stigmas suggests a serious and endemic problem. Poor mental health is not something that only dogs people at home, but which invariably follows them to work. This means they are not only unhappy and unwell, but liable to be unproductive, and producing a lower quality of work. All of this can lead to a scenario where poor performance leads to greater pressure on the employee, which then further exacerbates their mental health issues.

What is mental health first aid (MHFA)?

Mental health first aid is the application of several training courses with a shared theme: providing mental health support to colleagues in the workplace. The idea is that employees throughout an organisation improve their understanding of a variety of mental health conditions, as well as how they affect people. This will make them both more empathetic and more conscious of how other people are feeling, creating a happier and healthier workplace.

Mental health first aid is taught through a number of different courses, with different levels of complexity for different roles. An entry level mental health first aid course empowers all employees to keep an eye out for signs of poor mental health, and provide colleagues with access to useful resources. The more advanced courses teach you how to intervene to provide crucial resources, manage employees in a way that improves and supports their mental health, and make systemic changes to your working environment.

Mental health first aid has become increasingly popular as a way to improve attitudes around mental health in the workplace, and foster a more open and healthy working environment. Around 1 in every 100 adults in the UK have now taken some form of mental health training, with many larger businesses investing in courses as a means to address the topic. While not enough to solve the greater issues around mental health, it is a positive step for businesses of all sizes, and a genuinely helpful tool for those people impacted by poor mental health.

Why mental health first aid is important

For all that awareness of mental health problems has improved, it remains a nebulous and controversial topic. Many people are still afraid to talk openly about their mental health, and keep their problems to themselves, even as they affect their mood and general wellbeing. In many cases, the people around them either do not recognise the issue, do not attribute their behavioural changes to a mental health issue, or struggle to truly empathise with their problems.

Mental health first aid not only improves employees’ awareness of mental health issues – including specific conditions they may not be aware of – but improves their understanding of these conditions. This helps to build empathy with people who are suffering from mental health conditions, and helps them feel more comfortable talking about and addressing these issues. This can go an extremely long way towards improving the culture around mental health within a workplace, providing the knowledge and tools to tackle the issue.

Mental health first aid training is particularly effective when directed at managers and leaders. More advanced courses such as the Level 3 Supervising First Aid for Mental Health training go beyond the recognition of mental health issues, and into recognising the causes of poor mental health within the workplace. This training can help managers to communicate better with employees, and leaders to make decisions that limit the stressors and other factors which can aggravate mental health conditions.

As the awareness and acceptance of talking about mental health has improved, so too have the demands from employees for action from employers. Many younger employees now look for action on mental health, assurances about it being taken seriously, and perks that are beneficial to mental health. Investing in mental health first aid training and providing resources for employees will demonstrate your commitment to developing a better working environment, and help to attract younger employees in a competitive job market.

With the healthcare system seemingly overwhelmed by the scale of the mental health crisis, and a continuing stigma about speaking out, businesses have an increasingly important part to play in alleviating issues for their staff. By investing in mental health training for workers and managers, businesses can make staff feel better supported, more valued and ultimately healthier – with a material impact on the business’ bottom line.

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