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Should you have mental health first aid training in your workplace?

The need for mental health support in the workplace is becoming increasingly evident. And it’s not surprising – while as a society we’re becoming more aware of the negative effects a lack of understanding and support for mental health can have, there’s a cost implication too.

The Centre for Mental Health’s 2018 report on mental health in the workplace found that mental health problems cost UK businesses £34.9 billion a year – from sickness absence, reduced productivity at work and staff turnover. Around half of us feel uncomfortable discussing mental health issues at work according to a recent survey, and 15% of people had even suffered disciplinary actions as a result of disclosing information on their mental health.

In January this year, UK parliament debated mental health first aid (MHFA) in the workplace, resulting in a motion to put physical and mental health first aiding on an equal regulatory footing. Similarly, the Health and Safety Executive recently updated its guidance to include mental health first aid, further recognising its importance in the workplace.

At Allia, we want to challenge the stigmas that remain around mental health and to be able to support our team effectively, while also opening up conversations about mental health. MHFA training is a crucial first step employers can take to addressing issues around mental health in the workplace – helping to create a safe and supportive environment for employees to feel comfortable discussing their mental health – and one of our team has recently attended training to enable us to do just this.

After all, we can’t separate the health of the body and of the mind – there is no health without mental health

As with physical first aid training, mental health first aid training teaches people to recognise and support staff by helping to understand the impact of stigma, spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill health and provide help on a first aid basis.

Through our Cambridge accelerator programme, we supported ABC Life Support – a social enterprise focused on providing a range of first aid training courses, from physical and paediatric to mental health – and they were able to offer training to Allia’s own mental health first aider. We spoke to Danielle, the founder, about setting up her own business, and the importance of MHFA in the workplace.

How did you come to found ABC Life Support?

ABC Life Support was founded in 2010 in my local area to provide accessible paediatric first aid training to my peers who had children at the same time as me, based upon my experience as a Commercial First Aid Trainer for St John’s Ambulance. I set up my own training business, which grew over the years through word of mouth and reputation. We expanded our offering to all sectors and began to cover adult first aid training, and more recently included MHFA training. I have extensive learned experience of mental health and mental illness, so it was a natural fit for me.

In the workplace, both physical and mental health first aid training should be offered together, and I’m surprised it has taken so long to come to the forefront of industry. After all, we can’t separate the health of the body and of the mind – there is no health without mental health.

How has Allia supported you?

Allia has provided our organisation with practical help in taking our social enterprise to the next level.

What are the benefits for organisations and their staff in taking part in MHFA training?

Taking part in MHFA training allows staff to feel empowered to help a fellow colleague who is having a hard time. It is a normal part of life to have ups and downs but sometimes people find it difficult to communicate to the workplace that they need support if they are struggling. MHFA training will help a person to be able to recognise signs that could mean a person is becoming unwell. In turn this can help to keep people safe.

It helps to create an environment of openness, encourage difficult conversations and also breaks down stigma surrounding the subject. In the same way that learning CPR in physical first aid training can save a life, the skills learnt on a MHFA course can go on to save a life by helping people to be aware of signs and symptoms of decline in mental health before it turns into mental illness. It can also help you be more mindful of your own wellbeing and address issues before they become impactful.

What would you say to those organisations considering MHFA training?

Do it but do it properly. MHFA is only part of wider picture that all organisations should be taking into consideration. A robust culture of wellbeing and a policy surrounding the subject should be implemented so that all staff know what the expectations are. Transparency is necessary and top-level staff need to be fully on board for it to become more than a tick box exercise. As with all training, once the course is finished, it should be reviewed and tested to make sure that it is fit for purpose.

ABC Life Support regularly runs courses at our Cambridge and Peterborough Allia Future Business Centres. Details for the next available courses can be found below:

Cambridge: 2 Day Mental Health First Aid Training, Wednesday 3rd and Wednesday 10th July. Contact Monika Wiktor to book a space:

Peterborough: 2 Day Mental Health First Aid Training, date TBC. Contact Nuna Lawson to register your interest:

You can find out more about MHFA training and how to implement it in your organisation here. For more information on ABC Life Support, its courses and how to get in contact, click here.