As with physical first aid, mental health first aid focuses on spotting the crucial warning signs of mental ill health and supporting people experiencing this to access the right help.
With 1 in 4 people suffering from a mental health issue during their lifetime and recognising that we spend a third of our time at work, Cafcass has introduced Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs) to support our staff in the workplace. 18 staff members from a range of roles across Cafcass are now accredited as MHFAs after attending a two-day training course with MHFA England.
The training raised awareness of common mental health issues including anxiety, depression, eating disorders and psychosis, and the signs and symptoms of these. Our MHFAs received guidance on how to approach, assess and assist someone who might be developing or experiencing the worsening of these mental health issues. The main aim is to empower colleagues to access the help that best suits their needs and MHFAs will signpost to specialist services where appropriate.
Opening up conversation about mental health
Carl Bryce, Cafcass Health and Wellbeing (H&W) Officer and accredited MHFA says, “Our H&W strategy takes a holistic approach, recognising that mental and physical health are two sides of the same coin – you need to look after both.”
The first step, says Carl, is opening up a conversation around mental health. “If our MHFAs spot someone in need, we’re encouraging them to reach out to that individual. Sometimes just asking the question ‘Are you feeling okay?’ gives people the opportunity to share if they’re struggling and initiate a discussion about possible coping mechanisms.” The MHFAs are also there for staff to approach directly and draw on their support.
Charlotte Burns, IT Support Officer and accredited MHFA, agrees, “Sharing our experiences around mental health – either our own or of those we know – in a supportive environment during the training, opened my eyes to how many people it affects. As someone who has struggled with mental ill health, it’s helpful to know you’re not the only one. A lot of it is feeling listened to and supported in finding the right help, which is where we come in. We want staff to know they don’t need to take it on by themselves.”
Another role of the MHFAs, adds Carl, is to create an atmosphere in which mental health can be discussed in a positive and non-judgemental way. “We want to challenge stigma around mental ill health and for staff to feel safe and comfortable to ask for help. Other work such as our involvement in the Time to Change project and Mindful Employer is also driving better awareness and bringing mental health into day-to-day conversation. It’s important for people to recognise and embrace the positives that can be drawn from experiencing these issues, such as greater empathy, insight and resilience.”
Our MHFAs will now be joining team meetings to explain and promote their role and meeting every six months as a group to share learning and refresh on the training. Managers will also be going on a half day course looking at their role in supporting mental health at work.