Research reveals issues with workplace Mental Health First Aid

mental health first aid
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New research by the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has shed new light on mental health training in the workplace

The feasibility study led by University of Nottingham researchers — funded by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) — found both positives and areas for concern regarding ‘Mental Health First Aid’ (MHFA).

Researchers found inadequate boundaries for employees and a lack of proof that MHFA is effective.

The report adds to an existing body of evidence which reports MHFA to be highly effective at increasing knowledge and confidence in understanding and talking about mental health.

The research comes days after a plea was issued to Government for ‘MHFA to become mandatory.

Principal investigator Professor Avril Drummond, from the School of Health Sciences at The University of Nottingham, said:

“We found examples of excellent practice in rolling out the mental health first aid training where there were clearly strategies in place to support staff who felt confident in their role.

“However, we also found examples where staff felt unsupported and where, for example, they had co-workers contacting them outside working hours: there were significant issues around lack of clarity with boundaries and potential safety concerns for the trained person.”

The research team investigated the implementation, use and utility of MHFA in workplaces, surveying people from 81 UK organisations, 89.9% of whom had taken part in MHFA training and also conducted interviews with key workplace representatives.

Fionuala Bonnar, Chief Operating Officer, Mental Health First Aid England said: “We welcome this new study into the effectiveness of Mental Health First Aid training in the workplace.

“Time and time again Mental Health First Aid is shown to be effective in increasing knowledge, confidence and skills necessary to support someone with mental health issues.

“It’s encouraging to see that this latest piece of research adds to our evidence base and the report recommends that more could be done to strengthen the boundaries of a Mental Health First Aider in the workplace.

“This is something we will enhance as part of our existing course content and supporting materials and we will also be launching a refresher training course in early 2019 to ensure that skills are kept up to date at regular intervals.”

Duncan Spencer, Head of Advice and Practice at IOSH, said:

“Mental Health First Aid has become a prominent way of training individuals to recognise signs and symptoms of mental health problems and to select appropriate responses. But how successful is it in the workplace? What impact does it have?

“IOSH calls for a ‘prevention first’ approach incorporating MHFA as part of an organisation’s overall efforts to protect their workforce from mental health problems.

“Appointing staff in a volunteer capacity to support colleagues with mental health problems must be part of a bigger management system including preventative controls to remove or reduce risks.”

Where MHFA is used well in workplaces, the researchers identified several ‘active ingredients’ for success. These include:

  • clear vision and rationale for introducing the course and managerial support
  • enthusiastic coordinators who encourage support, champion the programme within the organisation and post-training, deal with issues and concerns, and lead a network
  • mandatory recording of formal interactions
  • a community or network of active trained members

The Nottingham team recommends further research and evaluation into the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of MHFA training, and a clear definition of the trained person’s role within the organisation, with guidelines for roles, boundaries and safeguarding procedures.

Mental health issues in the workplace has become rife amongst the construction industry with an astonishing amount of workers taking their own lives as a result.

In 2016 alone, 454 construction workers committed suicide after suffering with issues such as depression and anxiety.

The IOSH are set to host its ‘Mental wellbeing – the next step’ conference on the 3rd December to help the sector by offering expertise by leading professionals.

Joscelyne Shaw, from Mates in Mind, will lead a talk on the importance of mental wellbeing in the UK construction industry.


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