If you spilled boiling water on yourself while making a cup of tea at work, you’d expect a first aider to swiftly attend to your scalds. Why shouldn’t the same system be applied when it comes to caring for employees struggling with mental health?
Safe Work Australia tells us the role of a first aider is to provide immediate and effective first aid to workers or others who have been injured or become ill at the workplace to reduce the severity of the injury or illness. Organisations must provide their workforce with access to first aid equipment and facilities and allocate a sufficient number of trained first aiders, depending on the size of the organisation and the level of risk employees are exposed to.
But for the most part, first aiders are not trained in how to care for those struggling with mental health conditions, which is shocking when you consider that approximately 20% of Australiansexperience a common mental illness every year. The historical stigma surrounding mental health means that people often lack the knowledge and confidence to provide the right kind of assistance to those in need.
Fortunately, organisations are increasingly prioritising the mental health and wellbeing of their employees, which includes accrediting some of the workforce as Mental Health First Aid Officers. Following the completion of a training course, participants are better equipped to support friends, family, and colleagues who are going through a difficult time.
What is a Mental Health First Aid Officer?
To provide a formal definition:
A Mental Health First Aid Officer is a person who has been formally accredited to administer Mental Health First Aid in their workplace by attending and passing an assessment in a Mental Health First Aid Course that has been delivered by an Accredited Mental Health First Aid Instructor.
Essentially, Mental Health First Aid Officers are expected to provide employees with mental health first aid until appropriate professional help is received or the crisis is resolved. While these representatives are not qualified to provide medical or psychological advice, they can have supportive conversations, address emerging situations, reduce the risk of immediate harm to individuals, and guide them towards professional help as needed.
Mental Health First Aid Officers are trained to help people struggling with:
obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
substance abuse or drug addiction
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
suicidal thoughts and behaviours
Why is Mental Health First Aid so important?
Employers should always strive to lead their workforce with compassion and empathy. But in the wake of COVID-19, addressing issues surrounding mental health has never been more important.
At the pandemic’s height, Beyond Blue experienced a 60% increase in enquiries and the suicide hotlines charted at an astronomical 900% increase compared with 2019. Isolation, health concerns, fear of redundancy, and increased workloads can each contribute to a decline in someone’s mental health. But by nurturing a workplace environment that identifies and addresses this head-on, the impact can be mitigated.
For example, when an employee has concerns that a fellow colleague might be developing, or suffering from, a mental health problem, they can confidentially contact a Mental Health First Aid Officer. Referral to and engagement of a Mental Health First Aid Officer could be an important step in preserving an employee’s safety and wellbeing, particularly if they are not in a position to seek help for themselves.
It goes without saying that these representatives are obligated to treat all matters sensitively and in accordance with the proper confidentiality protocols. If a representative determines there is a risk of harm to any individual, they will escalate the matter to a Human Resources representative and, if appropriate, third-party mental health or emergency services.
If an urgent risk is identified, emergency services should be contacted immediately.
Mental Health First Aid at Six Degrees Executive
At Six Degrees Executive, we are committed to supporting and prioritising the mental and physical health and wellbeing of its entire team. We acknowledge that life can be challenging, and that mental health problems can be as debilitating as physical health conditions.
To ensure we can actively and appropriately support any instance of a developing mental health problem, or mental health crisis, we have accredited six Mental Health First Aiders in the business.