Current statistics indicate that 1 in 4 adults suffer from some sort of mental health issue, most commonly in the form of depression, anxiety and excessive substance use.  It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that many of these sufferers are found in our workplaces.  Furthermore, global suicide rates have never been higher, and this was even before the Covid pandemic. While physical First Aiders are a workplace requirement for all businesses, there is no legal requirement for Mental Health First Aiders, but I ask the question…”Is there an ethical one?”

My interactions with representatives from all types of business over the past few years has shown me that while some employers genuinely care about the mental wellbeing of their employees, others simply don’t.  Some employers are of the opinion that if an employee has a mental health issue, it is their own responsibility to seek intervention.  My question to these employers is, “What will you do if an employee has some sort of a “breakdown” while they are at work?”, and needless to say, the question is usually met with blank expressions or a response such as, “I will send them home.”

It has also been suggested to me that no-one ought to be permitted to assist an employee with a mental health issue other than a suitably qualified doctor or therapist.  To this I ask, “Why then are unqualified people allowed to assist employees with physical injury or illness at work?”

So what exactly is a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA)?  It is an employee who volunteers to undergo basic training that allows them to notice and support an individual who may be experiencing a mental health issue or crisis in the workplace and connect them with appropriate employee and community resources.  Employee resources might include an Employee Assistance Counsellor while community resources would include a helpline, clinic or hospital.  Mental Health First Aiders are also available for employees to approach should they require assistance with a mental health issue in which case they will again support and connect the employee with appropriate resources.  Let me clear, MHFAs are not there to provide intervention in the form of counselling, only to recognize, support and direct the employee to appropriate intervention.

Examples of comparison between traditional First Aiders who deal with physical injury and illness in the workplace to MHFAs is as follows:


Traditional First Aider

Mental Health First Aider

Cleans and applies a bandage to an open wound while waiting for trained medical personnel or prior to the employee’s transfer to hospital.

Calms and supports an employee who is having a panic attack, manic episode or angry outburst prior to transfer to a clinic or hospital for further assessment.

Administers CPR while waiting for Paramedics to arrive.

Supports and employee who is in shock prior to them being collected by family or taken to a clinic or hospital.

Positions an employee appropriately while they are having a seizure.

Takes aside a seemingly intoxicated employee, talks with and supports them, before directing them to appropriate services.


I am of the opinion that to have the traditional First Aiders, but not MHFAs is to negate the importance of the psychological health and safety of employees. I warrants mentioning as well that while the vast majority of people who have mental health issues do not pose a danger to themselves or to others, occasionally they do, which is further support for having MHFAs in your organization.

My experience is that the burden of employee mental health issues currently often lies with Human Resources personnel who simply don’t have the time or the training to deal with them.  I have heard that especially since the pandemic, HR Practitioners are being bombarded by employees reporting depression, anxiety and even suicidal ideation and most of them don’t know what they should do.

Regarding the implementation of a Mental Health First Aid programme in the workplace, the following serves as a guideline:

  1. Appoint a Co-ordinator for the programme.
  2. Decide how many MHFAs you require in your organization.
  3. Prepare a questionnaire to be completed by volunteering applicants.
  4. Ask for volunteers.
  5. Screen the volunteers and make a selection.
  6. Train the volunteers.
  7. Publicise the MHFA team throughout your organization.
  8. Ongoing support and debriefing for the MHFAs.

While steps 1, 2, 4 and 7 can be easily managed in-house, steps 3, 5, 6 and 8 need to be outsourced to a suitably qualified and experienced mental health service provider.  The training can be facilitated in one day on-site at your premises while the ongoing support and debriefing can be on an ad-hoc, individual basis, or at regular intervals in groups.

If you see the merit in having a MHFA programme in your organization and would like to proceed with implementation, I would love to hear from you.


Take care everyone.

Your Partner in Mental Health Matters @ Work



If you enjoyed this content, why not give it a share!