Mental health first aid – we all have a role to play

Mental health first aid – we all have a role to play

Mental Health First Aiders image

About the author: Huma Munshi

Huma Munshi Huma Munshi leads on disability and LGBT equality policy at the TUC.

She has almost 10 years' experience working in equality policy in a political environment and previously worked at the Greater London Authority.

Huma Munshi, along with a number of colleagues at the TUC, has recently been trained as a Mental Health First Aider – in this blog she writes about the course and how people can support mental health at work....

Along with a number of TUC colleagues, I took part in a two-day training session on mental health first aid. The purpose of the course was to develop the confidence and the capacity of the participants to provide “first aid” to colleagues who may be showing signs of mental distress. 

There are some facts we may all be familiar with: one in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem in any given year. Stress, anxiety, depression can often be a very natural response to the pressures we may all face: be that at work, in our personal lives, financial worries or trauma. But there are also some other facts I learnt at the training course which struck me. The suicide rate for men is significantly higher than for women, the UK suicide rate was 10.8 deaths per 100,000 population in 2014. The male suicide rate was more than 3 times higher than the female rate, with 16.8 male deaths per 100,000 compared with 5.2 female deaths. Notions of masculinity and staying quiet in the face of mental distress all make it harder for some people to access appropriate help.

The trainer emphasised the importance of making sure the person in distress is safe. Despite the media’s sensationalised headlines, a person with severe mental health problems is more likely to hurt themselves or be a victim of hate crime.

After safety considerations have been met it is important to reassure the person, provide initial help and guide a person towards appropriate professional help. Throughout the course there was an emphasis on what we as an organisation and as individuals can do to address the stigma that still surrounds mental health. A person may internalise this stigma or shame and may be less likely to ask for help.

There are a number of steps we can all take to ensure we proactively create a positive working environment. This can be though calling out bullying if we witness it to offering a sympathetic ear when a colleague may be under pressure. It may not always be obvious that someone is going thought a difficult or distressing time. People experiencing mental health difficulties may be high functioning so may not always show signs of experience mental distress. Given we spend so much time in the workplace, it makes sense to have a workplace which is safe and has a positive impact on our wellbeing.

The two day course was an intense and challenging experience but I see it as an opportunity to use the learning to raise awareness amongst colleagues. Any one of us could experience a traumatic experience or significant levels of stress that could have an adverse reaction on our mental health. There is a great benefit in learning about mental health, listening to our colleagues without judgement and providing support. The barrier of shame and stigma can only be removed through dialogue.

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