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Your Mental Health First Aiders need support too

Some investments by employers in Mental Health First Aid at work are limited to sending employees on a Mental Health First Aid training course. There is a risk that this investment will fail to deliver a positive return.

Why are employers investing in Mental Health First Aid Training?

  • Mental ill health is increasing due to increased incidence and increased diagnosis.
  • Mental ill health amongst employees is a significant cost to employers in terms of absenteeism, presenteeism and leavism.
  • Studies such as the one by Deloitte in support of the 2017 independent Stevenson‑Farmer Review commissioned by the Government, conclude that investment in employee mental health can generate a positive return.
  • Employers are encouraged to make that investment. As far back as 2012 the Department of Health encouraged all employers to provide mental health first aid training as part of its ‘No Health Without Mental Health: Implementation Framework’.

How can employers ensure a positive return from their investment?

Effective wellness strategyA 2007 study for the Cross-Government Health, Work and Wellbeing Executive, entitled “What Works at Work” found that effective workplace health interventions depended, among other things, upon:

  • Comprehensive steps to address organisational and individual level enablers (or barriers) such as: knowledge, culture and policies.
  • Communication, co-operation and shared goals between the employer, employees, occupational health providers and primary care professionals.

2018 HSE.A 2018 Health and Safety Executive report into the effectiveness of Mental Health First Aid training listed a few ‘ingredients for success’ which echo the findings of the 2007 study:

  • Have a clear vision and rationale for introducing Mental Health First Aiders.
  • Managerial support for the First Aiders themselves and advocacy for the support they can offer to others.
  • Create an active community or network of trained members.
  • Appoint enthusiastic coordinators who encourage support and champion the programme within the organisation and post-training, deal with issues and concerns.
  • Mandatory recording of formal interactions.

Is a positive return at risk?

Despite the findings of the 2007 study, a 2018 survey by HR software organisation; Cascade HR found that just 13% of 540 responding HR and business managers believed that their organisation had an effective wellness strategy.

Specifically, with respect to investment in Mental Health First Aid at work, there is also evidence that it lacks the comprehensive approach found to be so effective by the 2007 study.

Our own experience, echoed by other practitioners is that:

  • Mental Health First Aiders are not entirely clear how their role dovetails into company structures and processes. A fear of contradicting line managers, HR and Occupational Health results in a reticence to become visible to employees in need.
  • Employees are not sure what to expect from First Aiders and what will happen as a consequence of seeking support from them. In some instances, employees don’t know who their Mental Health First Aiders are.

A couple of independent studies appear to validate this practitioner experience:

The 2018 Health and Safety Executive Report referenced above, found:

  • Evidence that those receiving the training personally benefited from the experience.
  • No evidence of sustained actions by those receiving the training.
  • No evidence that the training was part of a coordinated strategy to improve mental health in workplace settings.

IOSH Mentor.A 2018 Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) report into Mental Health First Aid training identified:

  • Significant issues concerning the lack of clarity around boundaries and safety issues for the trained person.
  • Inconsistent strategies to select the most suited employees for training and to promote their role across the organisation.

How Work Wellness can help ensure your investment is effective

  • Work Wellness Mental Health First Aider Support builds the confidence your First Aiders need to be active and visible in supporting mental wellbeing amongst colleagues.
  • Work Wellness Mental Health First Aid Implementation Support is where we more formally recognise:
    • Islands of good practise so we can make them consistent and repeatable.
    • Organisational barriers to implementation so we can reduce them.

Thereby embedding positive, long term cultural change across your organisation.

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