One in four people in the UK will have a mental health problem at some point. A mental health first aider’s role is to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental ill health and provide initial assistance in the same way as a physical first aider. In order to become a mental health first aider, you must be qualified, the course itself is internationally recognised, accredited and will usually take place over 2 days.
The mental health first aid course would give a deeper understanding of the issues that impact on and relate to people’s mental health and teach practical skills that can be used every day, including being able to recognise signs and symptoms of mental health issues and guiding people towards support.
It’s important to remember that your mental health first aiders are there to support their colleagues. This could involve encouraging a discussion with managers, use of counselling, employee assistance programmes or where necessary, contacting the emergency services. They are not there to act as councillors or psychiatrists, but to help their colleague access the help they need.
The concept of mental health first aid has been around for some years but has only recently become a mainstream idea. This is all part of bigger cultural change happening across the UK with mental health becoming a more frequently discussed subject, and previous stigmas slowly being erased.
Currently, there is some disagreement between different experts on the benefits of mental health first aiders and the potential problems it may create.
Some mental health professionals believe that mental health first aid is seen as a ‘quick fix’ – a way of avoiding underlying issues in the workplace or could be used negatively by unscrupulous employers to highlight those in the workforce that may be struggling.
Others are also concerned that first aiders may over step their role, whether that’s involving themselves in HR issues, trying to solve serious mental health issues themselves rather that encouraging those in need to seek professional help or perhaps being overzealous in their approach.
For others, the concept of mental health first aid is another example of the fantastic progress being made in the way society views mental health and that early intervention can prevent symptoms deteriorating and promote quicker recovery.
Like most tools, the success of schemes, like mental health first aiders, is dependent on the current culture and selecting the right first aiders. Those you choose should have a genuine interest in mental health, be given the support and time to train properly and respect the responsibility of the role.