Mental Health First Aid Courses - Myths Versus Reality?
Almost half a million people in the UK have now been trained in Mental Health First Aid and that number is rising daily. Small businesses through to multinational corporations are training up their staff and for good reasons.
Poor mental health has been estimated at costing UK employers £45 billion a year. This also doesn’t take into account the knock on impacts on staff morale and general productivity levels.
The Mental Health First Aid course was developed in Australia in the year 2000, and is based on solid international research which is then tailored for each country. It is now the most respected, nationally recognised qualification but there are a few myths that rear their head on a regular basis.
Find out why the course isn’t the be-all and end-all for wellbeing, why you need to be careful about which trainer to choose and the reasons why the course isn’t right for everybody.
1. Myth: The Mental Health First Aid Course is the crux of your Employee Wellbeing Strategy
To view the Mental Health First Aid course as the magic ‘tick’ in the box for employee wellbeing is like training people in First Aid at Work, and then not bothering with measures to stop accidents and injuries happening in the first place.
The core focus of the two-day MHFA course is being able to spot when someone is struggling with their mental health and being able to signpost them to the right kind of support.
Yes, we talk about approaches to improving wellbeing but these are not the central theme. In other words, the course mentions preventative actions but the main focus is on how to react if problems are bubbling or even erupting.
Preventative measures are also crucial to help to maintain wellbeing. These range from training people in effective strategies so that they can take charge of their own wellbeing, through to taking steps to cultivate a genuine, positive company culture.
So, ideally your Mental Health and Wellbeing strategy will incorporate Mental Health First Aid training but it cannot be the only component. It is part of your wider strategy.
2. Every Mental Health First Aid Course is the same
The syllabus is the same, the learning activities are generally the same, and the resources are the same – they have to be according to the MHFA England licensing guidelines. However, there is a big ‘BUT’ coming…
Each and every trainer has their own style of teaching. They also have their own experiences which influence the examples they use and their emphasis on different aspects of the course.
Many trainers have lived experience of different mental health conditions and relate to these experiences heavily during their teaching. Some groups, such as mental health support organisations, respond to this really well.
Similarly, if trainers have worked in the mental health sector then their training will be through a slightly different lense to trainers who have originated from a performance and wellbeing focus.
If you’re trying to decide on a trainer for your team then it’s worth questioning whether their energy, experience and attitude fits with the company culture you’re aiming for.
For example, If you have a dynamic, forward thinking workforce, they may find it easier to relate to a trainer who shares that particular energy and focus.
Read our tips for choosing a training provider…
3. Myth: Everyone should do an MHFA Mental Health First Aid course.
There is no doubt that for most people these two-day courses are incredibly powerful experiences. The topics and learning exercises shed light on issues that relate to people’s lives at home and at work. It also helps people to understand themselves and others better.
So the topics are relevant to everyone. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone should sign up for a course.
Timing can be everything…
Learning happens at its best when people are relaxed, and enjoying the process not battling with their own thoughts and emotions. If people are experiencing a particularly challenging time themselves, then it may not be the right time for them to do the course.
We talk about a lot of subjects from depression and suicide through to psychosis and self harming. These topics can be difficult for people if they are in a position when they are struggling significantly themselves. Sometimes it’s kinder for people to get on an even keel again before doing the course.
Attitude is also important…
If people are told they have to attend a course and they have a negative attitude about the topic, it is potentially a wasted opportunity.
Whilst the course is highly likely to open their eyes and increase their understanding there is also the possibility that they won’t engage with the course. This in itself is not a major issue but the focus of the MHFA course is to decrease stigma and to increase knowledge and confidence levels so that people will help others if they’re struggling.
So if you decide Jo from Accounts should do the course, but Jo is convinced that depression is simply a “millennial issue and they need to toughen up”, then it’s worth thinking about whether Jo is the right colleague for the course.
Generally, people who voluntarily do the course are the ones that go on to make the biggest impact in the workplace. If you have to decide which members of staff should do the course though, then it’s worth considering which ones are going to actively help to reduce stigma and step forward to support colleagues on an ongoing basis.
After all, there is little point in investing in someone to do the programme if they’re not going to put their learning into action afterwards.
Is it the right training for them?
There are different training options available to help to improve employee mental health and wellbeing – not just the Mental Health First Aid Course.
Many organisations train up a large number of their workforce in Wellbeing Strategies and Mental Health Awareness courses which helps to promote positive health and wellbeing in their teams.
They then have a smaller group of team members who complete the two-day Mental Health First Aid course. This means that there are people in the organisation who can help to support people if they do start to experience difficulties and there are preventative measures in place too.
So the two-day Mental Health First Aid course can literally be a life changing experience for many people. There’s also no doubt that it can help organisations to know how to support employees who may be struggling.
BUT it’s important to consider which of your team members attend the course and which training provider you use.
AND it is a vital part of your Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy but it is not a stand-alone solution. Ideally it is one component that works alongside other measures to enhance employee wellbeing, and help to prevent the escalation of mental health issues.