Do you need a mental health first aider?

Mental health continues to be one of the major health challenges in Scotland and in the workplace and is something we at AM Employment Law are passionate about. With the huge impact it can have in the workplace, we are familiar with all the challenges it can raise for the employer, the individual and other staff members.

Employers can panic when they hear about mental health but there are many easy and basic steps an employer can take to do their bit to help and support their staff. One of these steps could be to introduce a mental health first aider.

Background to mental health

Mental health refers to a person’s emotional, psychological and social well-being. Mental health problems can affect anybody at any time in their lives in how we think, feel and act.

Anybody can be affected by times of feeling down or stressed and most of the time, these feelings pass. However, for some people they are less able to cope with these feelings and they can linger longer or develop into something more serious.

Despite movements to raise awareness and ‘normalise’ mental health, there is still a stigma attached to it. It is important that people realise the positive effect of taking about mental health and encourage a change towards the attitudes of some – including in the workplace.

With many mental health issues arising in, or being exacerbated by the workplace, for example anxiety, stress and depression, it is no surprise that some employers panic at the mention of the term. It is important to have as much knowledge of mental health and resources as possible. Having a mental health first aider may be one way of doing this.

What is a mental health first aider (MHFA)?

Mental health first aid is not a new idea – it has been around since 2001 after being considered by an Australian husband and wife team. They realised there is no mental health equivalent for a physical first aider. They used the example that we all know if you cut your finger, you go to the first aider, they fix it up or point you in the right direction of someone who can and they believed the same could be so useful from a mental health perspective and so the concept grew.

The idea came to Scotland in 2003 and the former Scottish Executive funded a training programme. There are now 40,000 people who have attended the MHFA training in Scotland and 300 instructors.

The role of a MHFA is to be able to offer the supportive conversations many employees and staff members need. They are on hand should someone be having a bad day or a rough period or just need to talk. Crucially, the role is not one of a counsellor, therapist or advisor. Their primary function is to listen and assess any risks and they are trained in how to respond and where to signpost them for further help if necessary. They can provide comfort to a person needing it who may be experiencing distress or just need someone to talk to.

Who can be a MHFA?

A mental health first aider is not reserved for only large organisations, it can be introduced in any workplace.

If a mental health first aider sounds like a good fit for your workplace, the first step would be selecting someone in your workforce who would be suitable for this role. The majority of workplaces do this by initially asking for volunteers and selecting the best candidate or candidates. The expectations of the role must be clearly laid down from the offset, remembering the importance of confidentiality at all times. It is a good idea once a MHFA is in place to monitor the work they do – confidential staff surveys are the best way to do this, to keep track of how many people are making use of the position and how successful it is.

The training

Scotland’s Mental Health First Aid are able to provide all the training and assistance needed in appointing a MHFA. The training course is over 12 hours and can be done over two days, four half days or six two-hour sessions. They provide all the material needed, provide a certificate at the end and cover everything needed for the role. The courses are carried out all over Scotland, including in Elgin and Inverness or they can come to a workplace or organisation also. There website which you can access by clicking here, provides all the relevant booking information.

How can we help?

If you would like any help with anything you have read in this article, contact us at or on 01343 569293.