Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is a recognised education and training programme that started in Australia in 2001 and its practice has spread to countries including the United Kingdom and Canada. According to MHFA England, its core aim is “achieved by delivering quality assured training programmes that are tried and tested and underpinned by regional, national and global research and evaluation” (MHFA England, 2016).
It is established that there is value in mental health first aid and it is recommended that like emergency first aid at work there be at least 2 Mental Health First Aiders in every workplace. A trained mental health first aider is to learn to spot early signs of a mental health issue, understand the stigma that surrounds mental health, feel confident in offering initial help, promote recovery to good mental health, help mental ill health from getting worse, signpost someone to appropriate treatment and sources of help and preserve life where a person may be at risk of harm to themselves or others. It is clear that this is a lot of responsibility.
The intention behind mental health first aid is excellent but it begs the question –who gives first aid to the mental health first aider? Who do they offload to after hearing or dealing with a traumatic event or even troubling information? Health care professionals know that at least once a month, they are required to attend supervision or have a counselling session to avoid burnout and to also ensure that they are abiding to a professional code of conduct.
A one or two day course is not sufficient to equip an individual with those skills, so what advice and support can be given to the mental health first aider?
Here are some suggestions:-
- Assure them that they are not there to fix the issue
- Assure them that any consequence is not their fault or responsibility
- Encourage self–care, e.g. Yoga, Pilates, meditation, deep breathing, healthy eating, getting adequate and quality sleep
- Arrange annual refresher training
- Provide them with direct access to trained counsellors/healthcare resources
MHFA has come under criticism for among other things a lack of governance and regulation. There is an obvious lack of comprehensive training and this had ethical and legal ramifications. If there is an incident, who is liable? Caring professions, e.g. occupational health, psychology, social work, require many years of education, training and experience. It must be stressed that a prevention-first approach which includes MHFA is advisable for the workplace.
Finally, I will say there is a place for MHFA but if the mental health first aider is expected to be a fixer and not given support and training, MHFA becomes a tick box exercise that can do more harm than good.
Jolene King is Principal Consultant of 246 King Consulting (http://246king.com). She is a trained Occupational Psychologist, experienced Human Resource professional, is a Mental Health First Aider and is trained in mental health conditions and exercise, health and nutrition. She can be reached at email@example.com.