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What is the role of a Mental Health First Aider?


One of the questions we are most often asked regarding workplace mental health awareness training, is, “What does a Mental Health First Aider do?”.  So, here is a short article which looks at the mental health first aider’s role and why organisations may benefit from having staff trained to fulfil this function.

Why do organisations need Mental Health First Aiders?

Embedding mental health first aid within an organisation helps to reduce stigma and create a more positive culture as it encourages people to talk about mental health more easily.  Mental health first aiders are trained to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill-health and to have the confidence to start a conversation and guide a colleague to appropriate support.

The role of a Mental Health First Aider

Similar to a physical health first aider, a mental health first aider is a point of contact for staff.  In the case of a mental health first aider this is for any staff member who is experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress.  As they are trained to spot signs and symptoms of mental health issues, they can also provide early intervention for someone who may be developing a mental health issue and offer initial support and guidance.

What can a Mental health First Aider do?

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England states that Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAider®) are trained to:

  • Spot the early signs and symptoms of mental ill-health
  • Start a supportive conversation with a colleague who may be experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress
  • Listen to the colleague non-judgementally
  • Assess the risk of suicide or self-harm
  • Encourage the person to access appropriate professional support or self-help strategies. This might include encouraging access to internal support systems, such as EAPs or in-house counselling services
  • Escalate to the appropriate emergency services, if required
  • Maintain confidentiality as appropriate
  • Protect themselves while performing their role

What a Mental Health First Aider can’t do

It should always be remembered that a mental health first aider does not diagnose mental health conditions and is not a trained therapist or psychiatrist.  Their role is to act as a point of contact, offering initial support and to guide the person to appropriate professional support.

Who should attend a Mental Health First Aid course?

The training is suitable for anyone in an organisation but those responsible for training may wish to think about the following points when deciding who should be trained for the mental health first aider role:

  • Is the individual interested and keen to learn more about mental health and wellbeing, as well as to support others if required?
  • Will they receive the time and support needed to attend the training and to then fulfil their mental health first aider role?
  • If a manager, would their line management responsibilities benefit from the knowledge, awareness and skills gained by attending the training?

How should an organisation support Mental Health First Aiders?

Although every organisation will have a different approach, internal support will be essential to ensure mental health first aiders are successfully embedded into their organisation and can carry out their role effectively as part of a whole organisation approach.
Some suggested support strategies include:

  • Communication – after their attendance on the course, arrange a follow-up call or meeting with newly qualified mental health first aiders to confirm they feel comfortable in their new role, clarifying boundaries of when they can be contacted and any potential safety concerns.
  • Publicity – discuss with mental health first aiders how their role will be publicised internally, including informing others how they can be contacted and the kind of things they can offer support with.
  • Policies and procedures – discuss which organisational policies and procedures mental health first aiders should follow and refer to.
  • Referral pathways – ensure mental health first aiders know how best to signpost a colleague either internally or externally. The MHFA course manual details reputable national charities and services which can be approached for support.
  • Set up a mental health first aider network – to enable mental health first aiders to share ideas, offer support and look out for their own wellbeing. Meeting frequency will depend on individual organisations, but monthly or quarterly meetings are common.
  • A whole organisation approach – illustrate how the mental health first aider role fits in with the organisation’s approach to developing a mentally health organisation.
  • Refresher training – MHFA England recommends that, in line with physical first aid training, half-day refresher training for MHFAiders® is provided every 3 years

More information about Mental Health First Aider training courses

Details of the Mental Health First Aid 2-day training courses we deliver can be found on the following pages:
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA England) Course 
Scotland’s Mental Health First Aid Course (SMHFA)

In addition to training a sufficient number of mental health first aiders, many organisations also deliver either the 1-day Workplace MHFA Champions or the 0.5-day Workplace Mental Health Aware course to increase all employees’ general understanding of mental health and how they can challenge stigma.

If you would like further details about any of the mental health awareness training courses we offer, please get in touch.

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