With all aspects of our lives seemingly coming under more and more pressure, it’s understandable that mentally, many of us might be struggling to cope – especially when it comes to the world of work.

A report released by the HSE last month found that in 2020/2021, reported cases of workers suffering job-related stress, depression or anxiety reached over 822,000. In total, stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 50% of all work-related illness cases – that’s a staggering amount!

It’s clear that if people are suffering with their mental wellbeing, they are unlikely to be at their physical or psychological best and will be unable to perform job roles effectively. As a result, organisations are now being encouraged to introduce so-called mental health first aiders.

colleagues comforting mental health

What is a mental health first aider?

Just like a physical first aider would be your first port of call if you experienced a physical injury, a mental health first aider would be the main point of contact if you’re experiencing mental health difficulties.

Their core role is to provide support and guidance to colleagues who may need help with a mental-health related issue. They’re someone that people can simply talk to in confidence if they feel they’re struggling with any aspect of their own mental wellbeing. In addition, mental health first aiders can also act as workplace advocates for maintaining positive mental health, encouraging appropriate changes within a business, and reducing stigma around mental health problems.

Do mental health first aiders require any qualifications?

At present, mental health first aiders are not required by law to have any qualifications; however, just like physical first aiders, specific training is recommended for them to be effective in their roles.

However, even with training, mental health first aiders are not therapists or counsellors. This means they cannot give any sort of clinical diagnosis – this should only be done by qualified and trained professionals. Instead, they can assist people in identifying both the symptoms and causes of their mental health problems and suggest organisations or professionals who they can approach for help.

What skills should a mental health first aider have?

Despite no formal qualifications being required, being a good mental health first aider does need some key skills that include:

  • Being an active listener

A good mental health first aider should be a great active listener: someone who can listen intently to what another person has to say and give them their full undivided attention.

  • Being compassionate

It can be difficult for people to open up about their mental wellbeing or any struggles they may be having. So, having a compassionate or empathetic approach can help people feel more at ease, and more comfortable about describing how they’re feeling.

  • Being confident

If someone knows a mental health first aider can respond to a situation quickly and calmly, they will feel reassured and confident that they can also trust them.

  • Having a non-judgemental attitude

Lastly, when helping an employee or colleague who’s having mental health difficulties, having a non-judgemental attitude can help them feel more at ease when talking about what’s affecting them.

Why would an organisation need a mental health first aider in 2022?

The sad truth of the matter is that whilst the British Government is confident we can ‘ride out’ the latest wave of COVID infections, it’s likely that 2022 will still be a very challenging year.

With the right support and training, mental health first aiders can help spot the signs of when someone within your organisation may be in mental and emotional distress. They can then work with them to get the correct help; ensuring a better outcome for the individual employee, and the wider organisation.

Could your organisation benefit from introducing mental health first aiders?

As an HR professional, it’s likely you’ll have the job of maintaining an employee wellbeing programme – and mental health first aiders can pay a vital role, helping you to better support and manage the mental wellbeing of your workforce.

Not only can mental health first aiders act as champions for promoting and supporting positive mental health within your organisation, but they could also be a sort of ‘early warning system’ – alerting your HR team to any potential mental health pressures that could be affecting your employees. This would then allow you to investigate the root causes, or perhaps make adjustments to your company’s wellbeing strategy to prevent it becoming a more urgent problem.

Also, the legal requirement to have mental health first aid training in the workplace could become law under a new Government Bill. So, it makes sense to not only be ready for any new regulations before they become official, but also give your employees that extra bit of support they might need to overcome the professional and personal challenges they may be facing.

Paul Bauer author image

Paul Bauer

Paul Bauer is the Head of Content at Cezanne HR. Based in the Utopia of Milton Keynes (his words, not ours!) he’s worked within the employee benefits, engagement and HR sectors for over four years. He's also earned multiple industry awards for his work - including a coveted Roses Creative Award.