Why be a Mental Health First Aider?

Mental Health First Aid Training

Why be a Mental Health First Aider?

I used to work in an office environment. The workload meant I arrived early, worked through my lunch hour, left late, and still had a pile of files to come back to the next day. In addition, my worry was reaching the financial targets which seem to increase with alarming regularity; not great when you did fixed fee work, so finding increased fees was a nightmare. When I think back now, I really struggled, feeling constantly stressed because I couldn’t reach the targets and not wanting to say anything as it would seem I wasn’t good enough. The one time I did say something about the huge workload, I was told to give some files to Amy* as she goes home on time and so obviously hasn’t got enough work to do! That was the culture, so any thoughts about opening up and voicing my concerns were completely out of the question.

I had my once-a-year appraisal and my supervisor spent the whole meeting talking about having one pot of money and those who put their head above the parapet will be rewarded at the expense of others, she even came out with the phrase ‘dog eat dog’. So, when she asked me if everything was okay I just said yes as there seemed no point in saying, well actually, I’m struggling with the targets. Soon after, I handed in my notice and left.

That was about 20 years ago. I often wonder how many good employees who walked away from jobs over the years, may have stayed if only they felt confident and comfortable enough to approach their managers to talk about their concerns. How much would those Managers have saved (and made) financially if they had supported their employees better. Losing experienced employees plus  recruitment and training expenses all affect the bottom line.

So, what has this got to do with Mental Health First Aid Training?

We have talked before about the importance of starting in a good place and building on that to implement a health and wellbeing programme that works. Having regular one to one sessions with staff to discuss workload, targets, deadlines, to ensure no-one is feeling overloaded or stressed beyond reasonable limits. Often stress is not noticeable until that person has reached a point where they need to take sick leave.

It is easy to notice signs of poor physical health, e.g. injuries, aches and pains, the need for medical treatment for conditions and illnesses, but not so easy to notice when someone is experiencing poor mental health. There is also a reticence to talk about mental health, often drawn from fear of saying the wrong thing or generally feeling inadequate to deal with a situation where someone needs help or guidance.

I recently attended a two-day online course of Mental Health First Aid Training, and it has opened my eyes as to how helpful this training is in a workplace environment and outside of work too. If mental health first aiders were in existence 20 years ago, I may have had the confidence to talk about my workload, in the knowledge that I would not be perceived as not coping or incapable of doing my job, but instead to have the support and opportunity to talk and find a solution acceptable to both me and my employer.

It’s the fear of what others may think that stops people talking. Having a mental health first aider available to listen could make all the difference. The course is comprehensive and guides you as to how to approach someone you feel may be experiencing poor mental health, how to actively listen and talk non-judgmentally and to support that person.

If you put yourself forward for mental health first aid training, are you unsure as to what will be expected of you once you have attended the course? No-one is expecting you to suddenly transform into a counsellor, someone who has all the answers, providing solutions to every problem and handing out advice. It’s not about that. It’s learning how to give support and time in a confidential, friendly way which allows for open discussion without fear of reprisals. It is also about your own self-care.

I would thoroughly recommend the course and can think of no better way to create a supportive inclusive environment for your business which will reap rewards both financially by retaining staff and morally by showing them that they really are valued and part of the team.

*name changed