Special Feature: Why all employers need to think about mental health first aid

Many businesses in Australia are required by state laws and regulations to have staff with first aid training on hand at any given time in case of an emergency. However, when it comes to Mental Health First Aid, it is a very different story. 

By Sandy Schieb, Teacher Consultant and Accredited Mental Health First Aid trainer, Northern Sydney Institute, part of TAFE NSW

Many businesses in Australia are required by state laws and regulations to have staff with first aid training on hand at any given time in case of an emergency. However, when it comes to Mental Health First Aid, it is a very different story. Mental Health First Aid is the help provided to people who may be developing a mental health problem or who is in a mental health crisis (e.g., the person is suicidal or has had a traumatic experience).

Any of us can get injured at work, so first aid training for employers makes sense, and is a common practice. Training to help recognise mental health issues among workers is not an immediate priority for most employers, but it should be.

Mental health issues, touch many people in the community and the workplace. One of the starkest indicators of mental health issues in Australia is the rate of suicide in the community. According to The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), in 2013, 1,885 males (16.4 per 100,000) and 637 females (5.5 per 100,000) died by suicide. This equates to seven deaths per day.

Because mental health issues affect many Australians it also affects many workplaces. Well-administered first aid can help save an employee’s life, and it can help that employee get back to work sooner, which is better for the worker and better for the company. According to Beyond Blue, mental health conditions present substantial costs to organisations. It’s interesting that if an organisation takes action and implements successful measures they can expect to achieve an ROI of $2.30. Mental health conditions are seen in all industries in Australia, but prevalence rates vary by industry and specific condition.  Interestingly, mental health issues are highest in the financial and insurance sector with 33 per cent of people experiencing a mental health condition.

Like physical first aid, mental health first aid is given until the person receives professional help or until the problem resolves. If an employee experiencing a mental health issue can receive assistance early on, something can be done about it before it is too late. This also means early treatment, which results in a minimum amount of interruption to the worker and the workplace. Often it is a concerned and knowledgeable work colleague who can approach the worker and offer support to seek appropriate medical help.

Most organisations undergo some level of first aid training. Likewise, most organisations should think about undergoing Mental Health First Aid training to help keep their staff and their businesses healthy. Mental Health First Aid strategies are taught in evidence-based training courses authored by Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Australia and delivered by accredited MHFA instructors across the country. 

The Northern Sydney Institute offers two-day Standard and Youth MHFA courses delivered by instructors who are currently accredited by MHFA Australia. The Institute has been offering this training to staff and our external partners for over five years, and has also commenced offering blended MHFA Australia courses. These are specifically designed for office workers, with a combination of online delivery and a 3 hour face to face workshop.. 

With this greater flexibility and accessibility to MHFA Australia course, I encourage all employers to undertake Mental Health First Aid training, for the sake of their employees and their business.

 

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