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How can HR support Mental Health First Aiders?

HR needs to implement policies that support mental health first aiders, argues the Association of Mental Health First Aiders' MD

Mental health first aiders are having life-changing and lifesaving conversations every day. But they need comprehensive support to keep doing so.

Mental health concerns are a growing issue in the workplace, impacting employee wellbeing, business productivity, and the bottom line. Fortunately, the mental health literacy of the nation has developed in recent years. More and more workplaces understand their role in creating and supporting good mental health.

At MHFA England, we believe that Mental Health First Aid training is one part of a holistic approach to supporting workplace mental health. It can be a powerful tool for organisations to address poor mental health in the workplace and beyond.

Read more: The missing pieces of mental health first aid

Many workplaces have identified the positive impact that Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs) can have in improving and supporting the mental health and wellbeing of people at work. If implemented and supported well, MHFAs can help provide initial interventions, offer a listening ear, de-escalate situations, and connect employees with resources, signposting and support. When asked, 91% of our MHFAs believe their actions have the potential to save lives.

They can also reduce stigma; 94% of our MHFAs reported that they believe they are challenging stigma around mental health, and 91% feel they are transforming the way society talks about and supports mental health.   

MHFAs are having life-changing and lifesaving conversations every day. They need comprehensive support to keep doing so. For MHFAs to succeed in their roles, workplaces must create the conditions for them to thrive.

To support MHFAs, HR can:

Provide a clear role definition

At MHFA England, we are clear that those trained in our MHFA course are not therapists or psychiatrists but they can offer early support through non-judgemental listening and guidance.

HR should ensure that employees understand the scope of what MHFA can and cannot do, to manage expectations.

Follow policy and procedures

HR should work with senior leadership to develop and implement policies that support the role of mental health first aiders, and outline the process for seeking help. HR should ensure these policies are communicated clearly across the organisation.

Read more: What could a mental health first aid law look like… and do we need one?

Manage workloads

HR should work with people managers to monitor the workload of mental health first aiders, to ensure they are not overwhelmed. If possible, time should be allocated within an MHFA's work schedule, to perform mental health first aid duties.

Provide a community

To succeed, MHFAs need support, which takes time and thought. We also know that HR teams are increasingly overstretched. MHFA England has created the Association of Mental Health First Aiders, a community to support members and provide resources such as training and events. This can reduce feelings of isolation and empower MHFAs through peer-to-peer learning.

MHFAs play a critical role in fostering a healthy work environment. By recognising their importance and actively supporting them, HR teams can empower their MHFAiders to strengthen employee wellbeing and organisational success.

By Sarah McIntosh, managing director of the Association of Mental Health First Aiders