The past few years have seen a huge increase in mental health conversations in the public sphere, both good and bad. On the one hand, cultivating awareness of the social landscape and how poor mental health or mental illness has impacted this can only be seen as a good thing. On the other side, there are unfortunately individuals who feel that these conversations perhaps do not need to be had, or that mental health, psychological distress, or however we might phrase it, simply does not exist. The implications of this are sadly all too obvious.

Battling the stigma is part of the ongoing war; although things are moving in the right direction there is still work to be done.  How do we take these conversations, however contentious they may be for some people, and raise awareness in the wider population in homes, in social groups and at work?

 

Mental Health First Aid

Mental Health First Aid has been something of a flag bearer for raising mental health awareness, particularly in the workplace, with businesses up and down the land investing heavily in their training programmes over the past ten years. 

“We want our training to create an unshakeable belief that we can all talk freely about mental health and seek support when we need it. We will achieve this through our mission to train one in ten people in mental health awareness and skills,” says Simon Blake, Mental Health First Aid England’s Chief Executive.

There is no knocking of this mission statement from me. Anything that encourages open conversations about mental health can only be positive. But although it might be highly subscribed and seen as something of a benchmark for corporates, is Mental Health First Aid the right fit? Does it do what it claims? Does it actually work?  As a mental health professional and psychological therapist, this is what I am most interested in – the evidence base. Outlay for these courses is between £125 and £300 per place. Do the benefits of the training justify the cost?

Well… maybe. It depends on what you are measuring. The latest research by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) conducted in August 2019 states that “there is consistent evidence that MHFA training raises employees’ awareness of mental ill health conditions.”

However the research also states: “There is no evidence that the introduction of MHFA training in workplaces has resulted in sustained actions in those trained, or that it has improved the wider management of mental ill-health”. 

So where does Mental Health First Aid fall short? Is it the solution that businesses need? It is clear that like any initiative, greater research needs to be carried out in order to assess sustainability and time will tell whether the current viewpoint from the HSE alters in the future. 

There are dozens of initiatives, modalities and methodologies that claim to be the best or the most successful, better than anything else out there. But scratch beneath the surface and you may be surprised by the lack of  evidence to substantiate these claims. If there is no cast iron proof that something works, why is it that so many people swear by it? 

NLP, for example, is hugely popular yet one of the most recent literature reviews show that the benefits were both “over promised and under supported.” when it comes to improving work related stress. The same can be said of other commonly available models and treatments.  CBT is not a silver bullet although the evidence base is undoubtedly pretty solid, certainly in comparison to other models, and a considerable number of patients I have worked with have found benefit in its principles and methodologies. That being said, it certainly does not work for everyone despite its evidence base.  

 

Further alternatives

But what about other models, ideas or strategies that perhaps don’t have an evidence base? If you find something genuinely helpful then by all means, use it. However what works for an individual may be less applicable in a larger organisational setting. Don’t forget what you are measuring as without this it is hard to measure progress. These factors don’t need to be any more difficult than looking at a balance sheet. 

Far from it for me to talk of raising awareness in mental health in a derogatory manner, there are things that we could consider, that might help in some way, either as an alternative option to Mental Health First Aid or an adjunct that may help improve its efficacy. 

Firstly Mental Health First Aid, whilst it is popular, is not the solution to raising awareness in the workplace. There are other options out there and we would like to think at Shine Workplace Wellbeing that we can offer a viable alternative. 

We have been running our Mental Health Awareness workshops for employees and managers alike in standalone workshops, as well as to clients in house, to great acclaim with feedback being really positive from the broad range of attendees that have come along to one of our sessions. 

Whilst there are some common guiding principles, content can be adjusted to your own organisation’s needs, whether that be a basic introduction to mental health or something more involved. The content is also delivered by an expert with a decade’s experience of working therapeutically in mental health settings. At Shine, we are experts in our field; whilst there are clearly very passionate individuals delivering the Mental Health First Aid training, not all of them can be called experts.

However, if you decide that Mental Health First Aid training is the route that you would like to take, how can you ensure that the right candidates are being put forward? These individuals will be looking out for the warning signs of poor mental health and encouraging those suffering from psychological distress to have the necessary conversations and signpost appropriately. This is a big responsibility, so don’t employers also have a responsibility to make sure that the right people are being trained to perform this function?

Well, this is also something that we can help with using our own expertise having worked in mental health services for a number of years, as well as supporting and supervising individuals going through clinical training. With regards to applying this to Mental Health First Aid training suitability, we have developed a program that can be used alongside your HR function to assess and effectively vet individuals to ensure that there is the right fit.  

We’d love to know your thoughts on this topic. If you’d like to know more about the services mentioned in this post, please get in touch.  

(photo by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels)