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Mental health first aid training ‘can fall at the first hurdle’

Firms must be prepared to make fundamental changes to workplace culture

Mental health first aid training can fall at the first hurdle unless businesses do it properly, Towergate Health & Protection has warned.

The healthcare intermediary said businesses could risk spending time and money on an initiative that has limited impact in the long run.

For instance, it said organisations need to recognise that fundamental changes may be required to their working culture in order to truly support the mental wellbeing of staff – or risk merely papering over cracks with initiatives.

“For mental health first aid training to have an impact, it must be part of a culture that supports mental wellbeing, and for some businesses this might need quite a shift,” it added. “Some companies may have an open culture but not provide support; some may provide support but not have a culture that encourages its use, and neither approaches are conducive to a mental wellbeing initiative being successful.”

There can also be a temptation to train staff based on their level of seniority, however they might not necessarily be best placed to hold such positions. Towergate pointed out that if a business trains a manager who has a reputation for not being approachable, that training needs to be accompanied by some more general training and development of the manager’s interpersonal skills.

“Equally, an individual who puts themselves forward for training, perhaps because they have an interest in the subject due to experience of mental health issues among friends or family, may not necessarily have the resilience or objectivity required for the role,” it said.

Towergate recommends businesses have a robust application and interview process in place to ensure appropriate staff are trained, and that a well-rounded mix of mental health first aiders are available to staff across an organisation.

It also suggests employers put measurements in place to track whether mental health first aiders are having a positive impact on a business. Running open forums or a staff engagement survey can be used to monitor whether employees feel better supported with their mental wellbeing.

Brett Hill, distribution director at Towergate Health & Protection, said businesses risk making a knee-jerk reaction to the issue by implementing solutions before the organisation is truly prepared to make lasting change.

“It’s important that businesses look at the culture of their organisation and the people working within it, to see how best to address mental health within the context of their business. It’s no good having a culture that’s open, but not having staff that are trained to support mental wellbeing; and vice versa, having staff trained to support mental wellbeing but a culture that doesn’t support mental health is going to fail. The right foundations need to be laid to ensure that any initiatives implemented, such as mental health first aid training, are truly impactful,” he added.