Mental health first-aiders are trained to spot the signs of mental ill health and to provide initial support to staff who need assistance, in much the same way as physical first-aiders respond to injury or illness.
Mental health first-aiders also promote a workplace culture where staff are free to discuss mental health issues openly and feel supported by their colleagues when they do so.
A mental health first-aider will:
- possess a high degree of empathy and sensitivity;
- be a passionate advocate for mental health awareness within the firm;
- be prepared to set an example for others, for instance by sharing their own experiences with colleagues;
- be available at short notice to be called away from their normal duties, for example to help a colleague in a crisis;
- have the ability to keep cool in a crisis, for example when dealing with a colleague who is upset;
- have good organisational skills, for example an ability to balance their normal work with their first-aider role; and
- possess a high degree of integrity, for example by recognising the importance of maintaining confidentiality.
To become a first-aider, it is necessary to complete a mental health first-aid training course through our accredited provider. The course, which normally lasts for two days and can be completed within normal working hours, is designed to give:
- an understanding of mental health and the factors that can affect wellbeing;
- practical skills to spot the triggers and signs of mental health issues;
- confidence to step in, reassure and support a person in distress;
- enhanced interpersonal skills such as non-judgmental listening; and
- knowledge to help someone recover their health by guiding them to further support, whether through self-help resources, the employer, or the NHS.
The course looks at specific mental health issues including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, psychosis and suicide, and covers how to identify early symptoms and options for professional treatment. Some may find aspects of the course distressing, perhaps because of personal experience.
To continue as a first-aider, it is necessary to complete any refresher training as directed/required. We require first-aiders to complete a refresher course every two years.
Key tasks and responsibilities
The role of a mental health first-aider includes the following elements:
- Spot early signs of mental health issues.The first-aider should be alert to changes in colleagues’ normal behaviour. This could include atypical behaviour for that individual, such as becoming more short-tempered than usual or withdrawing from their usual activities.
- Be a first point of contact for employees.The first-aider can be a first point of contact for an employee who is experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress.
- Be a first point of contact for employees who have concerns about a colleague.Employees can approach the first-aider to discuss any concerns that they have about a colleague’s mental wellbeing, when they are unsure what to do or say to help.
- Have a conversation with the employee.The first-aider can have an initial supportive and non-judgmental conversation with the employee. It may be that the employee simply needs someone to talk to.
- Encourage the employee to access appropriate internal assistance.The first-aider should be aware of what help the employer offers, for example via occupational health or an employee assistance programme (EAP). It may be that the employee needs encouragement to take the first step to seeking internal assistance, or is unaware of the support available within the firm.
- Encourage the person to access appropriate external help.It may be appropriate for the first-aider to explore with the employee the external support available. In some circumstances, the first-aider could encourage the employee to seek professional support, for example via counselling or NHS mental health support services.
- Take appropriate action where there is a risk of harm.First-aiders are trained to respond to a crisis situation where an employee may be at risk of harm to themselves or, in rare circumstances, others. They should be able to step in and reassure an employee in distress, while maintaining their own safety and, if necessary, escalating the issue to the emergency services.
Promoting good mental health
- Make their role known among staff.The first-aider should be prepared for the firm to publicise their identity as a first-aider, for example via the intranet. The first-aider is also responsible for ensuring that their colleagues are aware of their role, and that they introduce themselves to new staff.
- Take part in promotional pushes.The first-aider can champion our mental health first-aid programme and wider wellbeing strategy. They can also promote specific help that the firm offers, for example via occupational health or an EAP.
- Take part in specific initiatives.The first-aider may take part in specific initiatives, such as setting up support networks for particular workforce groups or encouraging colleagues to become first-aiders.
- Communicate regularly with their fellow first-aiders.The first-aider should work closely with other first-aiders, for example on wellbeing promotions and the identification of trends within the firm.
- Be an advocate for mental health awareness. As well as taking part in formal initiatives, the first-aider should be passionate about reducing the stigma that is associated with mental health issues and normalising conversations around mental health.
Limits to the role
A mental health first-aider must not:
- Attempt to diagnose or treat mental health issues.First-aiders are not health professionals and should not attempt to diagnose their colleagues’ mental health issues or provide other services such as counselling. First-aiders should recognise the limitations of their role and know when to help a colleague access professional support.
- Invade anyone’s privacy.First-aiders need to strike the right balance between supporting their colleagues and intruding in their personal issues. First-aiders should assess when their support is welcomed and when they need to step back.
- Breach anyone’s data protection rights.First-aiders should bear in mind that information that their colleagues share with them is confidential and must not be discussed with others. The exception is where there is a safety-critical situation, for example if the first-aider believes that someone is at risk of harm. First-aiders must abide by our data protection policy.