The Right Support for Mental Health at Work

November 20th, 2019
Be proactive about supporting mental health in your business.


I have felt entirely helpless and fearful of making a situation worse when it has come to supporting the mental health of people I care about in a moment of crisis.

How do you even define mental health? This was one of the first questions posed by Sharon, our skilful trainer, at the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) two-day course I attended this week.

I like the WHO definition which reads: “Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

My motivation for signing up for the course was simple – to be more proactive in supporting the mental health of people around me. As a business consultant, coach and mentor, I work with a wide range of individuals and organisations and I recognise that we could all be doing so much more in this area. Mental illness is something I have encountered in my own family, and with colleagues, and I wanted to feel more confident that I am doing the right thing when situations requiring support arise.

MHFA is an internationally recognised training course, designed to teach people how to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill health and provide help on a first aid basis. Course leaders, Altruist Enterprises was founded by Katie Buckingham, an inspiring woman “Irritated by the lack of awareness of stress and mental health.” Altruist is a manifestation of Katie’s vision of achieving ‘parity of esteem’ between physical and mental health in the workplace.

I joined a training cohort which highlighted the proactiveness of a wide range of businesses who are putting MHFA at the heart of their leadership and management development. They appreciate the contribution this makes to a healthy, productive and motivated workforce.

The course focused on supporting us to
– identify the signs and symptoms for a range of mental health conditions
– use the MHFA ALGEE model to provide aid to someone experiencing a mental health issue or crisis
– listen non-judgementally and be supportive
– signpost to professional help

The course did not teach us to be mental health experts, therapists or counsellors or how to diagnose mental health conditions or provide ongoing support. I cannot reinforce this enough, the role of a MHFAider is to have the confidence to approach, listen and provide reassurance for someone experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress and signpost them on to appropriate support.

Some tough case examples and sharing from the group enabled us to learn about and discuss conditions such as depression, suicide, anxiety disorders including phobias, OCD, PTSD and psychosis. The two days were jam-packed with content but delivered at a pace that enabled thorough discussion and reflection. The blended use of resources including workbooks, group exercises, filmed case studies and, forever my favourite, the flip chart paper and sharpies, kept our attention.

Having now experienced the training, when it comes to Mental health at work, I believe that if you supervise or employ anyone, even a single employee, you have a responsibility to undertake, and budget for managers at a minimum, to have this understanding and ideally accreditation in Mental Health First Aid.

As you would hope and anticipate with any course like this, the learning cannot fail to touch you as an individual. Not only does it elicit your compassion and understanding of others and their mental health but also encourages and advocates self-care. You cannot provide support to others unless you take care of your own mental wellbeing.

The MHFA over-delivered for me on every level, it is an absolute must-do for all business leaders and managers, at a minimum.

Read more about Katie, Altruist Enterprises and the MHFA courses here.

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