What is mental health first aid?

Mental health first aid is:

  • spotting the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues
  • providing non-judgemental support and reassurance
  • guiding a person to seek professional support.

What action should I take?

Organisations should consider:

  • ensuring that their health and safety risk assessments consider not just physical health and risks, but also mental health and risks
  • managing and mitigating the risks of harm in the workplace and having ways to support people with mental health issues
  • treating mental health in a similar way to physical health. For example, by having as many first aiders for mental health as for physical health.

Your workplace may want to:

  • have qualified Mental Health First Aiders. This includes adequate mental health first aid cover for periods of absence or multiple workplace sites. View Mental Health First Aid courses
  • consider the recommendations (‘Core Standards’) of the Thriving at Work: Stevenson/Farmer review
  • encourage all employees to maintain a healthy workplace through mental health awareness training or resources
  • ensure that HR policies and practices recognise the needs of those with mental health conditions. Read our advice on conducting a Mental Health Risk Assessment and creating a workplace wellbeing policy
  • Have a clear and well – communicated mental health wellbeing policy. Our research suggests 80% of employees weren’t sure if their company had a mental health wellbeing policy. An organisation may open itself to a claim for compensation by failing to respond appropriately to an employee with a mental health issue.

What hasn’t changed?

The new guidance doesn’t replace any existing guidance for employers on first aid at work. Provision of care within the workplace is not intended to replace professional mental health care or therapy. The Mental Health First Aid courses do not enable an individual to act as a mental health professional such as a therapist or psychiatrist.

There is existing guidance and regulations around stress in the workplace, in addition to this latest guidance. For example, HSE guidance for stress in the workplace state that employees have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it. This can also reduce the incidence and negative impact of mental ill health.

Is having Mental Health First Aiders a legal requirement?

Having Mental Health First Aiders in the workplace is a recommendation, not legislation, so there is no set date when workplaces must have sufficient mental health provision.

Employers need to treat mental health in a similar way to physical health. Employers are encouraged to take steps to consider employees’ mental health to provide a safe working environment. Workplaces could undertake a needs assessment and put in place strategies to address any risks and needs highlighted.

How many Mental Health First Aiders do I need?

We recommend that employers should try to have as many first aiders for mental health as first aiders for physical health.

What is the impact of poor mental health in the workplace?

Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental illness each year. In 2016, 15.8 million UK work days were lost due to mental illness.*

The largest causes of sickness absence for our country’s workforce are depression, stress, and anxiety. Mental illness costs UK businesses around £35 billion every year. This equates to:

  • £10.6 billion lost to sickness absence,
  • £21.2 billion in reduced productivity,
  • £3.1 billion in substituting employees members who vacate their roles due to mental illness.**

What are the benefits of training employees to hold Mental Health First Aid certification?

Independent research and evaluation shows that taking part in a Mental Health First Aid course:

  • raises awareness of mental illnesses,
  • encourages early intervention to aid recovery,
  • increases confidence in dealing with mental illnesses
  • reduces stigma around mental health issues.

In the workplace, there is still a great deal of ignorance around mental health issues. Many people are uncertain about how to recognise mental illness, and unsure about how to react when faced with it. The might also unwittingly exhibit stigmatising behaviours and attitudes. This means that those in need of mental health help and support do not receive it.

By becoming more informed and aware, managers and employees will be able to more easily spot the signs and symptoms of mental health issues and provide the right support.

Someone with poor mental health may not realise it. Even if they do, they may be reluctant to seek help, or might not know where to turn for care. For an employee experiencing a mental health issue, your organisation’s informed and supportive response is likely to lead to a much more beneficial outcome.

Research suggests that improving UK workplace mental health management could reduce employers’ losses attributed to mental illness by 30%, collectively saving £8 billion a year.***

*Office of National Statistics

**MHFA England

***Centre for Mental Health

Mental Health First Aid training courses

Support mental health in your workplace by training employees as mental health first aiders.