Emergency call for Mental Health First Aid


We think about our resident first-aider at work rushing to deal with an emergency, should it arise.  They might be able to dress a wound, numb a pain or even save a life with CPR. But what about the emergencies we can’t see, those that are suffering in silence with a mental health issue?  Statistics show that the problem is worse than we might think: a YouGov 2013 report stated that 1-in-5 people have taken a day off due to stress, but that 90% feel unable to tell their employer that mental health was the reason.

Despite the government recently announcing that the Department of Health and Public Health England are launching a campaign to train 1 million people in basic mental health first aid skills, there is still a whole culture that needs to change. We don’t really know what’s going on beneath the radar, but the fact remains that mental health in the workplace is still a taboo and it’s not going to change without employers stepping up and starting the conversation.


Over half UK employers would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but they don’t feel they have the right training or guidance to do so. Equipping ourselves with the skills to have that conversation needn’t be as hard as we might think. If just one person in a workplace can be trained to become a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA) it can go a long way towards creating a workplace culture where people can talk openly about what’s going on in their lives and how it may affect their work.

So, what exactly is a Mental Health First Aider?

Someone that has been trained to be mental health-literate, meaning they can recognise the signs that someone might be struggling and are trained in having those difficult first conversations. They listen, support and signpost so that the person can get the help they need from inside and outside of the workplace. Anyone can become a MHFA, from those in typically high stress male dominated environments to those in people facing service roles such as hairdressing, police force, nursing or teaching.

Isn’t that going to cost my business a fortune?

Actually, no. It’s more likely to make you money in the long run! Staff will be more engaged and stay with the company for longer, they will be happier, healthier and more motivated. If that’s not enough, an improvement of all these things brings with it a drop in ‘presenteeism’; there’ll be no more coming in and staring at a blank screen for your team!  Presenteeism is estimated to cost the UK economy an average of £605 per employee per year, making the cost savings, especially for a larger company, huge!

How do I know if a colleague is in need of Mental Health First Aid?

According to the Take 10 Together campaign the first step to getting someone the help they might need is to be aware of any unusual changes in their behaviour. By taking time to observe and consider if the action is a one-off (after a particularly stressful school run) or a more permanent change, you’ll be able to see if they are struggling. These are the MHFA England (www.mhfaengland.org) top signs to look out for:


  • Frequent headaches or stomach upsets 
  • More days off sick with minor illnesses
  • Difficulty sleeping or constant tiredness
  • Being run down
  • Lack of care over appearance
  • Sudden weight loss or gain

Emotional and Behavioural

  • Irritability, aggression or tearfulness
  • Being withdrawn, not participating in conversation or social activities
  • Increased arguments or conflict with others
  • Increased consumption of caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes or sedatives
  • Indecision, inability to concentrate
  • Erratic or socially unacceptable behaviour
  • Being louder or more exuberant than usual
  • Loss of confidence
  • Difficulty remembering things
  • Loss of humour

At Work

  • Increased errors, missing deadlines or forgetting tasks
  • Taking on too much work and volunteering for every new project
  • An employee who is normally punctual arriving late
  • Working too many hours, first in-last out, sending emails out of hours or while on leave
  • Increased sickness absence
  • Being fixated with fair treatment and quick to use grievance procedures

Want to get started? Download the MHFA ‘Starting the conversation’ toolkit here or consider training with Cordell Health to become a Mental Health First Aider in your workplace. If you’ve already got experience of helping a colleague in need of some MHFA we’d love you to share your top tips on how you’ve managed to broach those difficult conversations and what reaction you’ve had.