This is actually a debate that has been around for quite some time and has been discussed in parliament and is a big focus for many of the large mental health charities who are championing for better mental health legislation. Physical first aiders are mandatory in the workplace. When I train people to become mental health first aiders, we compare it to physical first aiders quite a lot as the idea of being a first aider for both physical and mental health are the same principles; To preserve life, prevent further harm, provide comfort and promote recovery.
The WHO (World Health Organization) talk about overall health as three key areas: your physical health, mental health and social wellbeing.
They say that you cannot have overall health without all these key areas. So, should it be treated the same as physical first aiders in the workplace? Should it be a legal requirement?
Many businesses are already taking the decision to introduce mental health first aiders into their organisations and I whole heartly support that. However, is training people these skills alone enough?
I have had discussions with clients who haven’t seen big changes or benefits of mental health first aiders after training them. When I have really investigated this with them it’s usually because the there is little or no infrastructure in place to ensure that the role is supported. A few key questions I ask clients are, what supports are in place for your people once trained? What other activities or initiatives are happening to promote positive mental health in the workplace? How does the role fit into your Wellbeing strategy?
I think if you are going to incorporate this role then it needs to be planned correctly with a clear and defined Wellbeing Strategy in place. Mental Health First Aiders will make a difference, these are lifesaving skills we are training. However, in a workplace it cannot just be the role alone. We know that culture, structure, and supports are also needed to maximise the benefits for both employers and employees.
Some important questions for business leaders to ask themselves are...
1. Is mental health on our business priority list?
2. Does my organisational structure promote positive mental health outcomes?
3. Does my organisation have the capabilities to deal with mental health in the workplace?
4. Do we have an open culture that promotes positive mental health?
5. Do we offer mental health support and tools?
6. Do we have the right tools and reporting in place to measure how effective our wellbeing strategy is?
If you find that you have no answers to those questions now is the time to act.
For me if we are to make mental health first aid roles mandatory in the workplace then more legislation needs to be put in place around managing wellbeing in the workplace to maximise its effectiveness.
There are ways for business to better equip themselves with how to create open and inclusive environments for their people to thrive.
Mental Health & Wellbeing Consultant