June 19, 2018

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Mental Health First Aid

‘How are you?’ Mental health first aid starts with a question

Practical considerations for implementing mental health first aid.

How often in a day do we ask ‘how are you?’ and the person says ‘fine.’ How prepared are we to deal with it, if someone responds ‘actually, I’m struggling’. Heather Beach, Managing Director at The Healthy Work Company, told Safety & Health Expo: “We spend much of our time thinking in our own head what we are going to say next, rather than listening to what the other person is saying.

Keen to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, Heather points out that: “One in one of us has mental health, just like one in one of us has physical heath.”

The mental health first aid course, run by the Healthy Work Company, trains people how to have a structure and how to respond when someone is struggling. It’s about giving people confidence to be able to respond to that situation.

The course is not not about providing therapy or diagnosing someone and providing the tools for a person to provide support to a friend or colleague in need. There is currently no legal requirement to have official mental health firstaiders within an organisation, so there is no set way for companies to deal with it.

Mental Health first aid: things to consider:

• Appoint and officially communicate – How many people do you need? If the law is passed making this mandatory, we might be looking at 1:10.
• Train managers and directors first.
• What support do you offer?

Luton Airport is a rare example, having employed a strategy where they have the same number of mental health first aiders as physical first aiders. That’s 6% of the work force. This is fairly uncommon through, often it’s a voluntary role.

As a manger its important to consider what adjustments you can make to a person’s work.

Why you should consider mental health first aid

Heather continued: “It’s an important, massive life skill to have. It helps in everyday life and in the workplace.”

• Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Suicide is the leading cause of death in men under 50. There is a suicide in the UK every 109 minutes.
• 49% of all working days lost to ill health related to stress. That’s 12.5m days lost, at a cost of around £16bn to employers.
• The Health & Safety at work act says that employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it.

Mental Health first Aid: a case study

Lesley Heath, Safety Director at West Midlands Trains, explain what the company is doing surrounding mental health: “There is a lot of stress within the railway environment. West Midlands Trains was going through a lot of changes and realised there would be a lot of stress on senior management team.

“We did not want to launch out mental health first aid strategy to the wider staff until our senior management were fully familiar with it.

“Very early I decided I would take mental health into health & safety, working with HR, to show that we are fully serious about mental health.

“All of our first aiders do it alongside their regular day job and practically all have said that it has benefited and helped them in their day-to-day role.”

For more on the policies at West Midlands Trains, and to see a video of Depot Manager John Mills describing his experience of the Mental Health First Aid course, click here.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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