DO MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AIDERS WORK?
The pandemic has turned a spotlight on mental health at work. Yet mental health first aid training at work was already gaining popularity pre-Covid. In 2016, the Department of Health and Business in the Community (BITC) both recommended providing mental health first aid training, and hundreds of thousands of volunteers have now been trained.
However, mental health first aid training remains unregulated, and some have questioned how beneficial it really is. A 2018 HSE review found that while MHFA training raised awareness of mental illness, it did little to improve trainees’ ability to help and nothing to improve organisational management of mental health.
So is MHFA training working? And how can we measure this?
MHFA England, the UK’s first and largest MHFA training provider, has coached over 4,000 instructors to train more than 400,000 people. Workplace lead Vicki Cockman warns that organisations should not treat MHFA as the sole solution, or they may be disappointed by the results: “You need to look at things like healthy job design, fair and equal pay and flexible working practices.”
In terms of measuring results, she suggests tracking four key metrics: sickness absence and return to work rate; employee attraction and retention rates; the number of conversations the first aiders are having, including the themes and the support provided; and the uptake of support.
Employee surveys can also be useful for gathering feedback; water firm Severn Trent, which has trained 360 MHFAs since 2016 and carries out regular surveys, has seen a four-fold increase in how seriously employees think it takes mental health.
“I strongly challenge any assertion that MHFA is a tick-box exercise,” says HR director Neil Morrison. “I hear stories every day from colleagues who have been really helped by a MHFA.”
While hard data on the success of MHFA may be limited, it’s clear that when integrated into a well-thought-out mental health strategy, it can have a crucial part to play.