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How does Mental Health First Aiders help to develop a mentally healthy workplace?

Did you know that 9 out of 10 Australian employees recognise the importance to work in a mentally healthy environment? However, only 52% of employees believe their workplace is mentally healthy.

In the past 12 months, 1 in 5 employees has taken time off work because of mental illness. 76% stated that this is due to work-related stress. [1] There are many proactive ways to reduce stress. Our previous article highlighted that stress is not the same for everyone, and not everyone experiences stress the same way [2].

Work-related stress is the leading psychological workplace hazard that affects the employees’ mental and physical wellbeing. This is also costing Australian businesses over 10 billion dollars per year. [3] Despite the substantial cost, nearly half of all senior managers believe none of their workers will experience a mental health problem at work. [4]

Another study also supported this as only 15% of employees say their organisation provides them with enough support to help them deal with their mental illness. [5]

Support is one of the psychosocial factors when looking at reducing Mental Health risks within your business. And having poor support within your organisation means your employees are at high risk of psychological illness and injuries.

Generally, creating a mentally healthy workplace is everyone’s responsibility. But mental health is leadership-driven. The reform must start at the top. Business owners and organisational leaders play a critical role in driving policies and practices that promote mental health in the Workplace. They can positively influence workplace culture, management practices and the experience of employees.

The State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia report says that there is strong evidence that when employees believe their CEO values a mentally healthy workplace, there are significant attitudinal and behavioural benefits. These include half the level of absenteeism due to mental health conditions and more positive perceptions of mental health in the Workplace. Additionally, workplaces, where CEOs value mental health are also more likely to be considered physically safe. [6]

Now the question is - as a leader who values the importance of a psychologically safe workplace, how are you providing adequate support to your team? Do your company policy and practices include mental first aid?

Just like physical first aiders, any organisation needs to have mental first aid in place. Here are the three things you must know about mental first aid.

1. Define Mental First Aid

Mental health first aid is the help you give to someone who is struggling. You can provide this first aid until the person has received appropriate professional treatment or resolved the crisis, but please note that Mental Health First Aiders are not counsellors. [7]

Mental health first aiders can help people experiencing the following conditions by connecting them to the right professional help:

  • depression

  • anxiety problems

  • psychosis

  • substance

  • use problems

  • eating disorders

  • gambling problems.

They can offer support to a person who is experiencing a mental health crisis, such as:

  • suicidal thoughts and behaviours

  • non-suicidal self-injury (sometimes called deliberate self-harm)

  • panic attacks

  • traumatic events

  • severe psychotic states

  • severe effects from alcohol or other drug use

  • Aggressive behaviours.

2. How to use mental first aid

Anyone can provide mental first aid. You can help those around you by following the steps provided by mental health first aid guidelines[8].

You can help even without Mental health first aid training. But if you wanted to take recognised Mental health first aid training, check out Mental Health First Aid Australia [9].

They’ll teach you how to help a person who is struggling or experiencing a mental health crisis.

  1. The first step is knowing the signs and symptoms of mental health problems so you can work out when it may be time to help. Only a trained professional can diagnose someone with a mental illness, but you can stay alert to changes in a person’s mood, behaviour, energy, habits, or personality. These changes may be the sign of a mental health problem.

  2. The next step is to approach the person.

  3. Be supportive.

  4. Know what’s is and is not helpful. Sometimes even with the best intentions, we can make matters worse.

Encourage someone to seek help for a mental health problem. Ask them what they need right now to move forward? Ask them what support they are receiving and, if appropriate, direct them to talk to their GP. Respect their right not to seek help unless you believe they are at risk of harming themselves or others. [7]

3. How can we utilise the skill set of our mental health first aiders

There is a significant knowledge gap between leaders and employees in terms of their awareness of workplace policies, procedures and practices to support workplace mental health.

35% of employees are unsure or believe their Workplace has no policies, procedures or practices to support mental health. In contrast, 81% of leaders indicate their Workplace has one or more policies, procedures, and practices to support mental health. [6]

How can we be more proactive around mental health awareness?

  • Conduct staff meetings to announce policy updates, existing policies that need reinforcement etc.

  • Post a memo on company bulletin boards/portals so employees can easily see them.

  • Hand out print out copies to employees and/or soft copies through email

  • Provide training or meeting, if needed.

  • Make your employees sign off on company policy and procedures.

  • Lead by example

So that’s about it. You can use this article as a guide in helping someone developing a mental health problem, experiencing a worsening of a mental health problem or in a mental health crisis.

Remember that you can give this first aid until the person has received appropriate professional treatment or the crisis is resolved.

Learn more about creating a psychologically safe workplace here.

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