How I became a Mental Health First Aider

Becoming a Mental Health First Aider at Octopus Group

Most of us are familiar with the concept of being a first aider, and we can all appreciate the importance of having them in the workplace – even if we go our entire lives without needing one.

But what about moments of mental health crisis? Given that one in four people will experience a mental health problem at some point, the chances of needing mental health help at work are actually pretty high. (I’ve never yet needed to be put in the recovery position, but I’ve certainly experienced anxiety in the office.)

Sadly, the chances of feeling comfortable enough to talk about this at work are pretty slim. A 2017 survey revealed that more employees would be happy to talk to their colleagues about their sex life than their mental health.

Something needs to change. And that’s where Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs) come in.

What is a Mental Health First Aider?

MHFA training takes physical first aid as an inspiration to empower community members to provide ‘better initial support to people developing mental health issues or in mental health crisis’. At the start of May, Octopus Group sent five employees (with two more going in September) from across the business to get our qualifications as part of its wellbeing at work strategy.

It was a well-timed way to kick off our Mental Health Awareness Week activity. As someone who blogs about mental health, I was keen to get involved and ensure I was well placed to give the right support when needed. The aims of the course are varied, but were mostly directed towards:

  • Spotting the early signs of a mental health issue
  • Building confidence in how to offer and provide initial help
  • Learning what to do (and not to do) in moments of mental health crisis
  • Preserving life when a person is at risk
  • Promoting recovery of good mental health
  • Guiding someone towards the appropriate treatment and resources

And, of course, understanding (and breaking down) the stigma around mental health topics. We were also given a framework, ‘ALGEE’, to help us handle the situations we might find ourselves in as MHFAs.

As a result, I think we all feel much more confident about providing mental health support – not just to our colleagues, but to anybody we might encounter going through a mental health crisis. I’d seriously recommend all businesses invest in training some MHFAs from different levels of seniority across the business, giving everybody someone to talk to, should they need it.  

What MHFA isn’t

A Mental Health First Aider isn’t there to diagnose, to provide counselling, or in any way take on the role of a trained mental health professional. Instead, we’re there to acknowledge, to listen, and to help support people in finding the appropriate professional help. This is an important distinction to make – not just for the safety of the people we look out for, but also our own wellbeing.

What was the training like?

There’s no denying it: the training was an intense process. We dealt with topics like depression, suicide, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse and psychosis, so covered a lot of ground and had some very heavy conversations. Safe to say, we all went home feeling fairly drained.

Fortunately, our trainer Michelle Morgan was compassionate, wise, open about her own mental health experiences, and extremely careful to look out for us all over a difficult few days.

Start the conversation – and keep it going

I know that I definitely walked away from the two-day first aider training feeling better equipped to help people in moments of mental health crisis – as well as being much more informed about the intricacies of different mental health conditions. And I can already see that this is a great platform not just for helping people, but opening up the conversation, whether that’s in the pub or sat at our desks.

It’s still not easy to talk about our mental health at work. But with any luck – and a few more MHFAs in our midst – we’ll be able to keep this momentum going, and improve our collective wellness as a result.