Workplace mental health first aid

First aid is most often heard in the context of medical attention: the support administered right after an injury, on location, before the person can be taken to professionals and treated thoroughly.
But first aid can, and should, also exist for mental health. 
However, while it is “easy” to spot an open wound, mental health struggles are much harder to identify, and, due to stigma, more difficult to approach. 
More often than not, it is not that we do not want to help, it is just that we are not sure how. 
Spreading the “know-how” about mental health support is the reason why first aid training for mental health exists. By teaching team members to recognise an respond to a coworker’s struggle, a company helps reduce the stigma around poor mental health.  
So what does mental health first aid entail? 
  • It is about spotting the signs of mental health struggle in a coworker’s change of behaviour
  • It is about providing support and reassurance without judgment
  • It is about informing coworkers about existing resources and accompanying them through the process of seeking professional help if required.
The first aider has to be known in the team or company as the person anyone can come to get anything off their chest, be it professional or personal. 
As all conversations are confidential, team members can talk about anything with them. 
It is important to note, though, that in the event of any suspicion that the coworker might hurt themselves or someone else, the first aider has the right to report to HR.
Knowing someone is there to listen is sometimes all we need
If you are thinking of implementing first aid in your company, here are a few things to keep in mind:
  • Anyone can do it, as anyone can be trained. 
  • It should be done voluntarily. The people should be committed to this task for the long term.
  • It is best to have more than one first aider in case people are on leave or if the company has several locations.
  • It is essential to take into consideration how much time these individuals will be able to spend on-site (if the company has a physical office) or how available they are online. 
  • It is also important to make sure to have diversity to represent different cultural and religious backgrounds. 
  • The company needs to make sure the first aiders are constantly up to date with the latest company policy on mental health and well-being.
  • Last but not least, who helps the helper? Do not forget to check on your first aiders, as they receive everyone’s grievance, which can also take a toll on their mental health.
What could be a motivation to become a first aider:
  • Simply because it feels good to feel needed. It is rewarding to help people feel better.
  • They want to support mental health in the company and be part of the solution
  • It can be that someone has suffered from mental health at work previously and wants to give back 
even in a professional setting, we should be able to find empathy
As we said, virtually anyone could become a first aider, as there is a wide range of online training. However, it is often easy to notice that some people are “natural” when it comes to being there for others. They usually have/are:
  • great listening skills
  • empathy
  • fair/non-judgmental 
  • easy to approach/talk to 
  • trustworthy
  • patient 
  • great at setting boundaries 
All the skills that make someone a great candidate for becoming a first aider. In addition to this, official training (make sure to do thorough research about what training is recognised in your country and industry) will give all the tools to support their fellow teammates. 
It is important to remember that first-aiders are not mental health specialists and cannot substitute themselves for therapists. They are not able to prescribe anything or pose a diagnosis. In addition, as they are employees of the company, it can sometimes be difficult for coworkers to open up, despite the confidentiality clause. Finally, some people might not be ready to open up at all and prefer the comfort of an online type of support.
Mental health first aiders are a great addition to your mental health and well-being policy. They can listen but also guide toward different existing resources; it also helps reduce stigma are more and more people are trained, but they should always be coupled with other types of resources your employees can choose from, such as self-assessment tools, online therapy sessions, books, podcasts, etc.