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Integrating Mental Health First Aiders into Your Business


Having mental health first aiders as part of your business can be a valuable asset in promoting a healthy and supportive workplace culture without fear of stigma or judgement.

Dawn Evans, Managing Director of Cardiff-based training company Ajuda and Founder of The Mental Health & Wellbeing Show, looks at how workplace stress can impact individuals and how managers can help to spot the tell-tale signs that one of their staff may be suffering with a mental health issue.

Dawn Evans, Managing Director of Cardiff-based training company Ajuda and Founder of The Mental Health & Wellbeing Show

According to the Stress Management Society, stress and poor mental health are one of the biggest public health challenges that we are facing today. In the past, muscular injuries used to be the leading reason that caused people to take time off work. Today, it is challenges caused by mental health.

One in four of us will suffer with a mental health issue of some kind during our lifetime, while one in six in the workplace will suffer from some form of mental illness. So, if you are part of a workplace team of 10, it’s likely that at least two of you colleagues will have a mental health issue of some sort.

To put that into monetary terms, it’s estimated that mental health difficulties are costing the UK economy around £70 billion per year. But this isn’t an issue about pounds and pence, no health issue is, it’s about giving the people the right support when they have a problem that can be helped by the right response from those around them.

The easy (if you can call it easy) thing about physical injuries is you can mostly see them and deal with them appropriately. If someone has a trip or fall or if they faint, there are set ways to respond and give the urgent care that is needed.

But, as the Stress Management Society says:

“The reality is these cannot be separate, there are two sides of the same coin. There is no health without mental health and stress can lead to numerous health problems from physical setbacks such as heart disease, insomnia, digestive issues, immune system challenges to name a few, to more serious mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.”

In work today, managers need to know how this plays out in real life, as they have a huge responsibility to give the support their staff need if they are having a crisis.

So how would they spot if one of their staff members needs help?

There are often subtle signs that someone is suffering from depression, particularly if they are acting out of character.

For example, they may have changed from being very concerned about their appearance to not showering, washing their hair or looking like they haven’t shaved. If their eating habits have changed, it may also be a sign that something’s wrong.

They may also seem more withdrawn. People with a normally outgoing personality may start to withdraw from team conversations or social gatherings, they may keep quiet about things they used to enjoy speaking about, such as family, favourite TV shows or interests they share with colleagues. Obviously their work may be suffering too, they may become less productive and start missing deadlines which may need official intervention.

On the other hand, if they are suddenly taking an interest in getting all their affairs in order, it can be a sign of preparing to end their own life. It’s vital that managers are able to notice these changes and are trained in signs and symptoms of depression and other mental health issues.

By undertaking mental health first aid training, managers will be able to spot the first signs something is going wrong and how to broach the subject. Being a manager doesn’t necessarily mean you have the empathy needed to support those you line manage.

A good way a manager can approach the issue is to ask open-ended questions – rather than saying “are you ok?”, we suggest a different approach to break down barriers, such as saying “I’ve noticed you haven’t been yourself lately, if there anything I can help with?”.

It gives people the chance to open up, rather than responding with a one-word answer. It’s also important to give people a chance to respond – with phones ringing and emails pinging, there’s no way a proper conversation can be had. A good way to have a talk is to get away from the normal working environment and get some fresh air, go for a walk or a sit on a park bench. This gives people the chance to  open up and to not feel the stigma that is often associated with mental health issues.

If there are issues, the managers must know where to signpost their colleagues to so they can get the support required. Many workplaces now offer access to counselling for mental health issues, while the company’s human resources department should be able to help. Other support services can also help, with both physical and mental health guidance available in a number of places.

What is vital though, is that people feel able to open up about their difficulties and are not stigmatised for facing up to difficulties that any one of use could face at any time.

Business News Wales