What’s the role of a mental health first aider in the workplace?

colleagues discussing mental health at work

As people have become more open about their mental health, employers are increasingly looking to support their employees in this regard, and ensure they are happy and productive in the workplace. The most prominent aspect of this has been the growth in First Aid for Mental Health training, a suite of courses that SAMS now offers to business and individuals.

While you might have an idea of what people learn on a First Aid or Emergency First Aid course, you may be less familiar with the contents of a First Aid for Mental Health course, and how you can use this to provide mental health support. Here’s a rundown of the responsibilities and role of a mental health first aider in the workplace, and how these courses help you to support colleagues with their mental health conditions.

What do you learn on a First Aid for Mental Health course?

The information you’ll receive from a First Aid for Mental Health course depends on the level of the course you take. The Level 1 Awareness in First Aid for Mental Health course is designed to increase awareness of mental health issues, helping staff to communicate and be open with one another, fostering a positive working environment. As well as helping people to notice issues and start conversations, the Level 1 course is ideal for improving a culture that is not entirely open to mental health issues.

While all levels of First Aid for Mental Health training prepare people to intervene and provide support, the Level 2 First Aid for Mental Health and Level 3 Supervising First Aid for Mental Health courses provide the most comprehensive overview of mental health issues. The Level 2 First Aid for Mental Health course is designed to empower mental health first aiders to take action, both by advising individuals and resolving underlying issues in the workplace.

The Level 3 Supervising First Aid for Mental Health course is the most advanced course we offer, and is designed primarily for managers, supervisors, and other individuals who are in a position to enact systemic change. The Level 3 course provides candidates with the fullest picture of mental health conditions and their underlying causes, and empowers them to make changes within their organisation to prevent and resolve these problems.

What does a mental health first aider do?

A mental health first aider’s role in the workplace is to act as a first point of contact for people with mental health issues, providing support and guidance to their colleagues. As well as being someone to talk to whenever they are struggling, a mental health first aider also acts as an advocate for mental health in the workplace, helping to reduce stigmas and enact positive change.

Mental health first aiders are not trained therapists or counsellors, and cannot give a clinical diagnosis as to what mental health issue a person is suffering from. They should not be seen as a replacement for proper treatment of mental health issues. Instead, they are a way to identify both the symptoms and causes of mental health problems, and suggest ways that both things can be resolved.

What are the responsibilities of a mental health first aider?

Mental health first aiders may have a variety of different responsibilities depending on the extent of their training and the role bestowed upon them by their organisation. Individuals with Level 1 Awareness of First Aid for Mental Health training should be comfortable discussing mental health with an individual, providing them with some basic advice and pointing them towards resources which can help them with their problems.

As a short one-day course, the Level 1 training is focused more on an awareness of mental health problems. People with Level 1 training are not usually designated as mental health first aiders, and would not necessarily be expected to intervene or be a single point of contact within an organisation. Instead, the Level 1 course is designed to remove stigmas around mental health, and encourage a more accepting and supportive workplace culture.

Individuals with Level 2 First Aid for Mental Health training will usually have a more formal role as a mental health first aider. Level 2 mental health first aiders may be expected to act as a point of contact for colleagues who are struggling, and provide guidance and a pathway to further support or treatment. They may also be encouraged to look out for signs of mental health issues that are affecting colleagues, and forward any concerns on to a manager or supervisor, intervening where appropriate.

The Level 2 First Aid for Mental Health course is designed to endow individuals with similar responsibilities to a regular First Aid or Emergency First Aid course. Instead of treating physical injuries, mental health first aiders are taught to identify mental ‘injuries’, to help those individuals towards treatment pathways, and to work to rectify any causes of these problems in the workplace. Mental health first aiders are also responsible for liaising closely with their employers to ensure their role is communicated effectively and supported properly, through the formulation of policies and provision of suitable resources.

Individuals taking the Level 3 Supervising First Aid for Mental Health course may have all of the responsibilities above, but will also usually be in a position to affect organisational change. They will be responsible for coordinating mental health first aiders in the workplace, identifying treatment pathways for individuals with mental health problems, and formulating policies to support individuals and prevent issues from arising. 

The Level 3 course is highly recommended for at least one person in every workplace in order to ensure that mental health issues are taken seriously, and that the efforts of mental health first aiders are not going to waste. Without an individual dedicated to supervising first aid for mental health, the problems which contribute to poor mental health in the workplace may not be resoled, and mental health first aiders may not feel adequately supported in the work that they do.

SAMS First Aid for Mental Health courses

SAMS offer all three of the courses mentioned above: the Level 1 Awareness of First Aid for Mental Health, the Level 2 First Aid for Mental Health, and the Level 3 Supervising First Aid for Mental Health. The three courses are based at our training centre in Manston, Kent, but can be provided at your premises if sufficient numbers are met.

To find out more about these three courses and the differences between them, watch our handy video explainer below. Alternatively, get in touch with us today to book your place and help change your organisation for the better.