Safeguarding employee mental health

We need mental health first aiders for the workplace, says Alex Read.

Reading time: 3 minutes.

Over the past 10 years, there has been a significant shift in the way we talk about employee health and wellbeing. A recent survey of employee benefits, HR and wellbeing specialists suggests it’s well and truly cemented its place on the agenda of larger sized employers, with more than two thirds (68%) saying their business has a defined a strategy in place for managing employee wellbeing.

Many employers can rightly be proud to be doing their bit to promote their employees’ physical health through the likes of free fruit, bikes to work and discounted gym membership. But, despite health and wellbeing becoming commonplace water-cooler discussion, for many, stretching it to mental health is still a challenge and the topic remains taboo.

So how do we crack the code of silence to bring more awareness and understanding to bear on mental health at work? Just imagine the benefit if employees felt empowered to speak as openly about their mental health as they do about their physical health.

Well, nobody said it would be easy. Mental health is incredibly complex and nuanced – especially when it comes to supporting individual employees’ needs.

Which is why it probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that 62% of the practitioners mentioned above also agreed that mental health is their board’s biggest area of concern.

Unfortunately, there’s no simple solution for safeguarding workforce mental health. That said, arguably, a good place to start is the introduction of employees who’ve been trained as mental health first aiders.

How to become a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England certified mental health first aider

MHFA England’s two-day mental health first aider course is designed to equip participants with the knowledge, tools and confidence to recognise warning signs and offer suitable support if someone is experiencing mental health issues – as well as guiding them to getting the right professional support.

The focus is on enabling trainees to listen, reassure and respond appropriately – even in a crisis. What it does not do is teach first aiders to be therapists or to try to solve people’s problems. Rather, they’re a first line of support for fellow employees who may need help.

Since MHFA training was introduced in 2017, the number of businesses that have taken it up has quadrupled

For instance, someone who’s experiencing a panic attack. Or who simply wants to talk about their mental health. Or who’s looking for a steer on how to best to help a workmate who seems to be struggling.

Workplace mental health support – the interest grows

We all have mental health. It’s an essential part of our wellbeing. And, from time to time, many of us can and do feel the need for guidance or support to help us deal with the pressures in our lives.

So it’s encouraging to see a growing number of employers are taking positive steps to support their workforce’s mental health.

I believe that having mental health first aiders in a workforce really does help to raise employees’ awareness and understanding of mental health, challenge misperceptions and, in turn, create a more positive, supportive working culture.

But, helpful though on-site first aiders can be, they’re only a small part of the picture. To put an effective workplace wellbeing support programme into place, employers need to introduce strategies, built on the simple insight that we’re all social animals, that take a holistic approach to safeguarding and supporting all the bio-psycho-social drivers of their employees’ wellbeing. And being there to support them when they need help.

Find out how you can support mental health in the workplace at one of the Dods Diverse Workforce events.


About the author

Alex Read is health and wellbeing programme manager at AXA PPP healthcare  and a MHFA England  accredited mental health first aid instructor.


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