The Value of Training Staff in Mental Health First Aid
6th October 2016
Mental ill health in the workplace is a growing issue with one in six working age adults experiencing depression, anxiety or stress-related problems at any one time. With World Mental Health Day on 10th October, we are calling on all employers to find out how they can support the mental well being of their staff.
10 million people experience a mental health issue each year in the UK and work-related mental ill health costs UK employers £26 billion annually through lost working days, staff turnover and lower productivity.
We all have mental health just as we have physical health. Mental Health First Aid is the mental health equivalent of a physical first aid course. It teaches people the skills and confidence to recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues and effectively guide a person towards the right support.
McCrory Brickwork Ltd is one firm introducing Mental Health First Aid. A family business established in 1997, as a specialist masonry contractor it provides services to many blue-chip clients including, Lend lease, Mace, Carillion, BAM, and most other members of the major contractors group. Paul McCrory, Managing Director of McCrory Brickwork is trained in Mental Health First Aid.
Paul says: “Within the UK construction industry workers in the UK are 100 times more likely to die from an occupational illness than a workplace accident, which is a shocking statistic and one we need to tackle. At McCrory Brickwork we are committed to improving the situation. As a small firm with around 20 staff we have started with a plan to roll out Mental Health First Aid amongst our employees, not just within the business but also amongst our sub-contractors, whom we have close relations with.”
How to start a conversation about mental health in the workplace
Despite all the good work that’s being done to normalise conversations around mental health, the stigma does still exist, which makes it hard for people to feel that they can talk openly about their mental wellbeing - particularly in the workplace. It’s vital that that more is done to encourage discussions about mental health, between colleagues and also between staff and their managers.
To help tackle the stigma, MHFA England is calling on everyone to ‘Take 10 Together’ and have a 10 minute conversation with a friend, family member, or colleague to start a conversation about mental health and find out more about Mental Health First Aid.
It might seem a little daunting to start a conversation about mental health but it’s important to remember you don’t have to be an expert. Here are some practical tips for how you can start the conversation.
Choose a setting
- Make a cup of tea, coffee or grab a cup of water. Whichever you choose it’s a great way to ask someone a quick ‘how are you’ and ask for a private meeting
- Give yourself plenty of time so you don’t appear to be in a hurry. 10 minutes may be enough but if you need longer then go ahead
- You don’t want to be disturbed so turn your phone off or onto silent
- Meeting outside the workplace in a neutral space such as a café might feel less intimidating
How to ask the questions
- Keep the chat positive and supportive, exploring the issues and how you may be able to help
- Keep your body language open and non-confrontational
- Be empathetic and take them seriously
- Do not offer glib advice such as "pull yourself together" or "cheer up"
- Take into account cultural differences in communication styles such as how much eye contact is appropriate
Useful questions to ask:
- "How are you feeling at the moment?"
- “How long have you felt like this – is it an ongoing issue?”
- “Who do you feel you can go to for support?"
- “Are there any work related factors which are contributing to how you are feeling?”
- "Is there anything we can do to help?"
How to listen
- Give the person your full focus and listen without interrupting
- Listen to their words, tone of voice and body language - all will give clues to how they are feeling
Once you’ve started the conversation, make sure you keep it going - follow up with the person and ask them how they are doing. Reassure them that your door is always open, and really mean it. It's particularly essential to keep in touch with an employee who is off sick.
Give reassurance that there are lots of sources of support and some of these might be available via the HR or Occupational Health department, Employee Assisted Programmes or on-site counselling. If you work in a company with limited support services it’s also appropriate to encourage the person to visit their GP for guidance around accessing the NHS funded programme ‘Improving Access to Psychological Therapies’.
For more guidance around how to approach and respond to a colleague who is experiencing a mental health issue download the free Line Managers Resource at mhfaengland.org/workplace/line-managers-resource
To find out how employers can support the wellbeing of their staff and demonstrate their commitment to World Mental Health Day, visit mhfaengland.org and download the free MHFA England Take 10 Together toolkit.
 ONS (2009)
 BUPA (2014) Breaking the silence: Business leaders failing those with mental health conditions (50 business leaders and 500 employees both with and without mental health conditions were independently surveyed in summer 2014)