Mental Health First Aid – what employers need to know

One in four people in the UK will suffer from a mental health issue each year and yet two-thirds have no one to speak to about their mental health, according to a poll for Time To Talk Day 2019 by Time To Change.

While it is a legal requirement to have physical first aiders in every workplace, and in many public places and events, we’re still a long way from seeing our mental health treated in the same way.

Here at Be Empowered we hope to change that by training people as mental health first aiders to be able to assist those suffering with mental ill health in the workplace, and signposting them to get the appropriate professional help for them.



Happy employees


Business in the Community’s 2017 Mental Health at Work report found that workplace approaches to mental health are moving in the right direction but there is still work to be done. As employers we are on this journey together, and Be Empowered is here to support you.

From small businesses through to the large household names with thousands of employees, many are putting the mental wellbeing of staff at the forefront of their policies, and rightly so! We know that people work more productively when they are happy, so it makes good business sense to create a workplace that prides itself on establishing this culture.


Mental Health First Aid is not a tick-box exercise.


There is a danger that employers could see MHFA as a ‘of the moment’ initiative that can be implemented quickly to tick the mental health box, without making the right efforts to ensure it is actually effective.

Below we outline some key things to think about when implementing Mental Health First Aid.


Clarity from the top down




The only effective, sustainable approach to employee wellbeing involves the whole organisation. Attitudes filter down from leaders and must be backed up with policies and procedures. Alongside any training it’s important to review how your organisation can create and nurture an open and supportive culture around mental health.


Having a senior leader champion your mental health initiatives is a very powerful way to break down stigma and gain traction across the organisation.

Senior leaders should:

  • Position mental health as a boardroom issue, on par with physical health
  • Consider that positive wellbeing has a well-documented impact on productivity, performance, and employee engagement. Supporting wellbeing is good business for everybody




Create a wellbeing strategy which centres around the whole person and promote this to staff. Mental health is one element of wellbeing alongside others such as physical, financial and emotional wellbeing, which are all connected in a whole person approach.


The Thriving at Work report sets out six ‘mental health core standards’ – a set of actions for employers to support mental health. You can use these to build the mental health element of your wellbeing strategy:


  1. Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan
  2. Develop mental health awareness among employees
  3. Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling
  4. Provide your employees with good working conditions
  5. Promote effective people management
  6. Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing


So what do employers need to consider?


  • Accessibility – your mental health first aiders need to be accessible to all employees, which means an even distribution across your organisation.




  • Visibility – mental health first aiders need to be known. There should be initiatives within the workplace to ensure the wider staff know who to go to. From posters to lanyards, campaigns to emails, these need to be well communicated and sit nicely in line with a well thought out strategy.



  • Provisions – you must be clear on what is in place to help those struggling with mental ill health, alongside providing support for the qualified first aiders themselves.




Who should train as a mental health first aider?


Asking employees to apply for the training will help you to recruit the people within your organisation who are best placed for the role. We recommend that you train:


  • A wide range of individuals – encourage applications to represent the diversity of your workforce, from different seniority levels, locations, genders and ethnic backgrounds.


  • People who want to learn more about mental health to support others, whether or not they have experienced mental ill health themselves. Make sure that all applicants (not just those who have disclosed personal experience) understand what the role will involve and have considered their own wellbeing to decide if now is the right time for them.


  • People who spend the majority of their working hours on site at the workplace for which they are nominated and can be called away from their normal duties at short notice if needed.


  • People who can maintain confidentiality as appropriate and demonstrate an ability to relate well to others.


  • People who can commit to the time required and who have the support from their line manager to fulfil the role once trained.


Get in touch with us to find out more about the type of application process you can use.


Support and develop your mental health first aiders


Support is vital to successfully embed MHFA training into an organisation, and to allow mental health first aiders to perform their role safely and effectively.


Mental health first aiders should be able to access support, continue learning and share challenges. This might be as simple as having regular meetings among all trained individuals, or setting up a social media messaging group. This will also help in ensuring that the first aiders, and the people around them, understand the remit and limitations of their roles.


Some examples of support strategies are;


  • Follow up after the MHFA course with a conference call or meeting. Make sure everyone feels comfortable in their new role.


  • Set up a Mental Health First Aider network with a clear remit for support and idea sharing. This should be overseen by someone with a HR background or the person who is leading the initiative. The network should meet regularly and is an opportunity to remind mental health first aiders to look out for their own wellbeing too.


  • Empower mental health first aiders to maintain their skills with regular refresher training. We recommend attending an MHFA refresher course (half a day’s training) every three years, in line with physical first aid training.


  • Keep track of when people leave the organisation and more MHFA training is needed to maintain numbers.


  • Review and report on the impact of the training regularly.


  • Raise mental health awareness and tackle stigma throughout the organisation to help create an environment where people feel empowered to contact their mental health first aiders for support.



And remember…


Mental health initiatives are for life not just for awareness days!



Click below to find out about how you can train with us!


Mental Health training courses