First-aid champs

Written by: Clare Ferguson
Published on: 2 Dec 2019

Clare FergusonWith 27 mental health first-aiders in the company, Clare Ferguson explains the value of having these trained colleagues for support.

One in four people experience mental ill health in their lifetime. Stress, depression and anxiety accounted for over half of workplace absence and working days lost in 2018.

We need to keep our colleagues mentally well, especially in the fast-pace, high-pressure FM industry. So we have implemented mental health first-aid (MHFA) training to create a safe and healthy workplace where mental health and physical health are equally valued.

MHFA training gives first-aiders tools to support their own mental health and that of their colleagues. But it also creates awareness to decrease the stigma around mental health issues, fosters a culture of support and understanding, and makes staff more resilient.

Included in MHFA training

Training begins with an explanation of mental illnesses and equips first-aiders with the confidence to support colleagues experiencing a mental health problem.

They learn how to:  

  • Spot the early signs of mental health issues;  
  • Direct and signpost colleagues to professional help and promote the recovery of good mental health;   
  • Connect colleagues to local mental health support organisations and our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP); and
  • Understand the stigma that exists around mental health and breaking down barriers.

The right MHFA candidate

The person wanting to become a MHFA champion should be able to articulate why they think they would be great at it and what skills and strengths they would bring to the role.

Personal strengths for the role include:  

  • An attentive listener who does not judge others and understands that mental ill health can affect anyone at any point in their life;
  • An effective communicator who can engage with a diverse and remote workforce;  
  • Motivation to improve mental health awareness and culture;  
  • Self-awareness, open-mindedness, approachability, sincerity and empathy;  
  • Confidence to have delicate and potentially challenging/distressing conversations;  
  • Emotional intelligence with a caring nature; and  
  • Having a positive outlook on life.

Advice to others looking to implement MHFA

1 Send leaders on a training course first

To ensure senior leadership buy-in, send them on an employee relationship training course. This should happen before you set up the MHFA training module as there will be clearer direction and more support from leadership after their own experience.

2 Set up a wellbeing strategy

MHFA needs to be part of a broader wellbeing initiative at the organisation including promotion of physical health and wellbeing, healthy eating and food choices and flexible working policies and practices.

These provisions need to be in place to make the MHFA element effective. It’s also paramount to have wellbeing champions. I am proud to be the organisation’s wellbeing ambassador along with Rebecca Murphy in marketing and communications, who is an enthusiastic wellbeing champion.

3 Launch Toolbox Talks

Host toolbox talks on mental health for line managers and those interested in becoming MHFA champions. Provide information on how to spot symptoms and signs of ill mental health.

Use these talks as educational tools for the broader organisation and to create awareness about the MHFA and support resources in your EAP service.

4 Support national and international days around mental health

Use these days to showcase to colleagues what support is available to them.

5 Make MHFA champions easily identifiable

We’ve used Z-Cards on lanyards. But also provide these trained employees with a detailed manual as a point of reference for the future. 

Clare Ferguson is HR business partner and wellbeing ambassador at Arcus FM