What Does a Mental Health First Aider Do: Unlocking the Power of Compassion.

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What Does a Mental Health First Aider Do: Unlocking the Power of Compassion.

A mental health first aider is someone who has been trained to spot the early signs of mental ill health in others, offer initial help and guide a person towards appropriate support. They play an important role in promoting wellbeing and can act as a point of contact for anyone experiencing mental health issues in the workplace.

The role involves raising awareness, challenging stigma and empowering people to seek help when needed. It’s really important to emphasise that mental health first aiders AREN’T counsellors or therapists, but they know how to approach someone in distress and how to signpost them to professional support. Some of the key responsibilities include:

  • Providing a listening ear to colleagues who may be experiencing poor mental health
  • Supporting individuals who disclose distressing problems or issues
  • Assessing individuals for risk of harm to themselves or others
  • Guiding people towards appropriate professional help
  • Maintaining confidentiality and the boundaries of the role
  • Promoting good mental health practices in the workplace
  • Acting as a point of contact on mental health issues for the organisation

Having mental health first aiders in the workplace can foster an environment where employees feel comfortable asking for support because their presence signifies that mental health is valued and taken seriously.

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What does a mental health first aider do: Provide Initial Support

The first and most important step a mental health first aider takes is to provide initial support to someone who may be experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress. This involves approaching the person, assessing the situation, and offering help.

Some key things a mental health first aider will do when providing initial support:

  • Listen non-judgmentally – Give the person time and space to speak freely and open up. Avoid criticising or passing judgment. Listen with empathy, compassion and an open mind.
  • Assess the situation – Gauge whether the person is in crisis and at risk of harm. Identify any issues that need immediate intervention. Also evaluate whether the person would benefit from additional support.
  • Give reassurance – Comfort the person and let them know you are there to help. Provide reassurance that they can get through this and that support is available.
  • Encourage professional help – Gently recommend the person seeks professional help like counseling, therapy or calling a helpline. Avoid pressuring, just make them aware of options.

The mental health first aider’s priority is making that initial human connection at a time when someone is most vulnerable. By listening, showing care and assessing how to best help, they provide critical first support.

Assess Risk

A key responsibility for a mental health first aider is to assess whether the person they are supporting is at risk of harm to themselves or others. This involves identifying any warning signs that the person may be having thoughts of suicide or self-harm. If there are indications of suicide risk, the first aider should apply a suicide intervention model to determine the level of risk. This may involve asking direct questions like “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” or “Do you have a specific plan for how you would do it?”. While it can be uncomfortable to ask these questions, it is extremely important to understand if there is imminent danger.

If the risk seems high, urgent action should be taken such as staying with the person and contacting emergency services or the police. For lower levels of risk, setting up a safety plan, removing means of self-harm, following up regularly, and connecting the individual to professional mental health care can help keep them safe. In situations where the person is in crisis, the first aider should avoid leaving them alone and do whatever is necessary to get them help and prevent harm. Assessing for risk is essential to determine the right support and resources to mobilise. Acting quickly and compassionately can save lives.

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Give Ongoing Support

A key role of a mental health first aider is to provide ongoing support to individuals who are experiencing mental health issues or crises. This involves regularly checking in with the person, monitoring their wellbeing, having open discussions about how they are feeling, and motivating positive action.

  • It is important to follow up after the initial support meeting to see how the person is doing. Set up regular check-ins based on their needs, whether it is daily, weekly or monthly. Ask open-ended questions and listen without judgement. Be patient and allow them to open up at their own pace.
  • During the check-ins, keep track of any changes in their mood, behavior or outlook. Note warning signs like expressions of hopelessness or mentions of suicide. Feedback any concerns to your mental health first aid coordinator.
  • Have open discussions to understand what the person is going through. So don’t be afraid to ask directly about sensitive topics like suicide ideation. Talking openly can help lift some of the weight and make the person feel heard.
  • Offer reassurance and motivation to take positive steps forward. Help them set small, manageable goals that will improve their mental health, like starting a new self-care ritual or scheduling an appointment with a counselor. Celebrate any progress made.

Your ongoing support provides stability as they navigate challenges. Consistent check-ins demonstrate you care and can help motivate them to keep going. With time, self-care tools and professional help, their situation can improve.

What does a mental health first aider do: Signpost Resources

Mental health first aiders are well-equipped to signpost individuals to appropriate internal and external services and resources. This can include providing information on:

  • Counseling services – Many workplaces offer confidential counseling. Mental health first aiders can share contact details and explain how to access these services.
  • Treatment services – For those needing professional mental health support, first aiders can point them towards assessment services to get diagnosed or specialist treatment like contacting their GP/primary care provider or talking therapies.
  • Mental health charities and organisations – There are many reputable mental health charities that offer helplines, online resources, peer support networks and more. First aiders can research and recommend relevant organisations.
  • Self-help tools – Things like mindfulness apps, mood trackers, meditation techniques and other self-care practices can be useful for individuals to try. First Aiders for Mental Health can suggest different tools and techniques.
  • HR and policies – First aiders should be familiar with internal policies around wellbeing, time off, flexible working etc, to inform employees of rights and support available.

The key is providing personalised signposting to services that are appropriate for the individual and their circumstances. Mental health first aiders use their training and knowledge to make informed recommendations. By signposting people to the right support, they can play a vital role in that person’s recovery journey.

Develop Skills

As a mental health first aider, it’s important to develop strong interpersonal skills to provide effective support. Active listening is crucial – giving your full attention, not interrupting, reflecting back what the person says and summarising to check your understanding. Building rapport shows you genuinely care about the person and makes them feel comfortable opening up to you.

Use communication tactics like open-ended questions, empathising, validating feelings and paraphrasing what the person says rather than giving direct advice. Set appropriate boundaries so you know when to involve professional help if issues escalate beyond your abilities. Attend mental health first aid training to properly learn these skills.

Roleplaying scenarios with colleagues is great practice for responding compassionately yet firmly when needed. Keep developing your skills through ongoing training. A competent first aider knows when to apply different skills depending on the situation and personality of the person seeking support. Mastering these abilities takes time but is vital.

Promote Wellbeing

Mental health first aiders play an important role in promoting wellbeing and reducing stigma in the workplace. Here are some of the key ways they can help foster a culture of openness and support:

Reduce Stigma

  • Share personal stories – First aiders opening up about their own experiences with mental health challenges can help reduce stigma and make it feel more normal to talk about these issues.
  • Challenge stereotypes – Correct misconceptions and outdated views on mental illness that can make people feel ashamed or prevent them from seeking help.
  • Talk openly – Have open discussions to get mental health out in the open. The more it’s discussed, the less taboo it becomes.

Run Events and Campaigns

  • Mental health awareness events – Organise activities and events around mental health therefore raising awareness. This could be for key awareness days/months or regular events.
  • Poster campaigns – Visible messaging reminds people of the importance of wellbeing and that support is available if needed.
  • Guest speakers – Bring in external experts who can share stories and insights into supporting mental health.
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Foster an Open Culture

  • Keep communication open – Maintain an open-door policy so people feel comfortable approaching first aiders.
  • Normalise conversations – Make it clear that it’s perfectly normal to talk about your mental health, just like physical health.
  • Share tips and advice – Provide regular tips and advice for protecting wellbeing and signposting to support.

Be a Role Model

  • Practice self-care – Lead by example by taking care of your own wellbeing through a healthy work-life balance.
  • Show compassion – Demonstrate compassion, empathy and active listening in dealings with others.
  • Check in with people – Have regular informal chats to see how colleagues are doing and pick up on any issues early.
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Train Others

Mental health first aiders play a key role in training others in their workplace on mental health awareness and resources. So as a First Aider for MH, you can help educate coworkers, managers, and employees on common mental health issues, reducing stigma and encouraging compassion.

As a First Aider for Mental Health you can conduct training sessions to:

  • Educate on mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol addiction, and more so others can better understand signs, symptoms and experiences. Avoid stigmatising language and promote empathy.
  • Run wellbeing workshops or mindfulness courses on the importance of mental health and self-care. Highlight simple daily practices everyone can build into their routine to support wellbeing.
  • Teach how to spot signs of distress and changes in behavior that may indicate someone is struggling. Outline tips for reaching out compassionately and directing them to help.
  • Advise on company resources like counseling benefits, wellbeing services, anti-bullying policies, etc. Ensure everyone knows where to turn should they or someone they know need support.
  • Recommend self-care strategies like taking breaks, setting boundaries, asserting needs, breathing exercises, journaling, and other proven ways to mitigate stress and anxiety. Share techniques they can start applying right away.

Equipping colleagues with greater understanding and the ability to identify issues early can have an immense impact on mental health in your workplace. As a first aider, facilitating this kind of ongoing education and positive culture change is a valuable part of your role.

Look After Yourself

As a mental health first aider, it’s important to look after your own wellbeing so you can best support others. This involves practicing self-care, setting limits, tapping your own support network, and taking breaks as needed.

Some tips include:

  • Make time for activities you enjoy – whether it’s reading, exercising, or spending time with loved ones. Don’t let your role take over your life.
  • Set boundaries and limit the amount of time you spend in your first aider role each day or week. Learn to say no if you feel unable to take on more.
  • Talk to trusted friends, family members, colleagues, or professionals if you need support. Don’t try to cope alone.
  • Take regular breaks during and between supporting others. Even a brief pause to stretch, hydrate, or go outdoors can help you recharge.
  • Monitor yourself for signs of stress or burnout, so if needed, you can step back or change your approach. Your wellbeing should be the priority.
  • Build your resilience through self-care strategies. This might involve exercise, meditation, therapy, maintaining work-life balance, and engaging in hobbies.
  • Let your workplace know if the demands of your role become too much. Ask for a different first aider to provide support at times.

Looking after your mental health and getting ongoing support enables you to be fully present for others in your first aider role, while protecting yourself from compassion fatigue. Make self-care a regular habit.

What does a mental health first aider do: Conclusion

While not counselors themselves, they form a crucial link in the mental health system by promoting an environment where mental health is discussed without stigma and employees feel comfortable asking for support. Their training enables them to spot signs of distress early and compassionately discuss options.

With many people facing mental health struggles, workplaces that implement mental health first aider programs demonstrate social responsibility and care for their staff. Employees feel valued knowing support structures exist if challenges arise, so for any organisation seeking to bolster mental wellbeing, having trained First Aiders for Mental Health is an excellent step.

Being a mental health first aider requires commitment, empathy, discretion, strong communication abilities, and continuous learning. It’s deeply rewarding yet demanding work, but we all must do our part to support mental first aiders and contribute to emotionally healthy workplaces. Reach out to your mental health first aider if you need an open ear and advice, so together we can build workplace where everyone feels welcome just as they are.

Let us help you with your Mental Health First Aid training

Are you inspired to contribute to a compassionate and mentally healthy workplace? Training to become a Mental Health First Aider might be the step you’re looking to take.

At Wellbeing in Your Office, we offer various First Aid for Mental Health courses that empower individuals like you to support mental wellbeing in the workplace. Our courses equip individuals with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to recognise mental health concerns in their colleagues and provide initial support.

Transform not only your life but also contribute to transforming your workplace into a supportive environment where everyone thrives. Check out our Mental Health First Aid Courses and start your journey on becoming a Mental Health First Aider today! Your step today can make a world of difference to someone in your workpalce. Contact Wellbeing in Your Office here to chat about your First Aid for Mental Health training needs.

Gosia Federowicz - Co-Founder of Wellbeing in Your Office. First Aid for mental Health and Workplace Wellbeing. Digital Wellbeing. Free mental health posters.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is intended for general knowledge and educational purposes only. It should not be construed as professional health, legal, or business advice. Readers should always consult with appropriate health professionals, human resource experts, or legal advisors for specific concerns related to mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of publication, Wellbeing In Your Office cannot be held responsible for any subsequent changes, updates, or revisions of the aforementioned content.

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