Training a member of staff as a designated first aider in any workplace is common practice which many will have experience of – and often, it’s something an employer is legally required to do, depending on the size and nature of a workplace.
The Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 require employers to provide adequate and appropriate equipment, facilities and personnel to ensure their employees receive immediate attention if they become ill or get injured at work. These regulations apply to any and all workplaces, although depending on the size of the workplace, this could mean different things; whether a trained first aider is needed, what should go in a first aid kit and if a designated first aid room is required.
No matter how an employer chooses to meet these first aid regulations, it is clear that employers must take first aid seriously and make a commitment to it in all workplaces. Why, then, do we not extend the same attitude towards mental health first aid, as we do for physical first aid?
Parity of esteem when it comes to treating physical and mental health is something that is often spoken about. One in four people of working age will suffer from a mental health condition at some point in their lives, so it makes sense that we should address it in the same way we address physical ill health.
Mental health first aid is just one of the ways to do this. On one of the many mental health first aid courses offered in the UK – from organisations like MIND and Maudsley Learning – attendees can learn about things like how to recognise the signs of mental ill health in the workplace, how to help someone exhibiting signs of mental ill health such as a panic attack, and how to appropriately and sensitively support someone who suffers from an ongoing mental health condition.
Training a member of staff in mental health first aid can help ensure that there is someone in the office who can recognise the signs of mental ill health in employees when they first develop. This can mean that someone struggling with their mental health can get the help they need much earlier on, and having someone in the office trained in mental health first aid also helps to remove the stigma around talking about the subject.
As well as benefitting employees by getting them the help they need and reducing the stigma, training an employee in mental health first aid can benefit companies too. Mental ill health is one of the most common reasons for long-term sickness absence from work, and intervening and providing support for staff with these problems as they occur, rather than waiting for the issues to become severe enough to require long periods of time off work, can help save companies time and money.
If you have an employee on long-term sickness absence due to mental ill health, you can refer them to Fit for Work by visiting fitforwork.org/employer (fitforworkscotland.scot for those in Scotland) and clicking on ‘refer an employee’. They will then be referred to speak with a dedicated advisor, who can work with them and their employee to help them get back to work in a way that suits them. Those looking for advice on dealing with mental health in the workplace can phone the Fit for Work advice line on 0800 032 6235 or 0800 019 2211 for those in Scotland.