What is mental health first aid? How to become a mental health first aider- and what the role involves

A mental health first aider is taught how to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill health and provide help on a first aid basis

Workplaces and businesses throughout the UK often have designated first aiders on hand to provide help if someone suffers a physical injury.

However, some companies are also now training mental health first aiders, but what is their role and how can you become one?

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A mental health first aider is taught how to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill health and provide help on a first aid basis (Photo: Shutterstock)

What is a mental health first aider?

A mental health first aider is taught how to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill health and provide help on a first aid basis.

Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) - who train people to become mental health first aiders - say that people are taught “how to recognise those crucial warning signs of mental ill health and feel confident to guide someone to appropriate support.”

The role of a mental health first aider in the workplace is to be a point of contact for an employee who is experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress.

According to MHFA England, this interaction could range from having an initial conversation through to supporting the person to get appropriate help.

Mental health first aiders are also valuable in providing early intervention help for someone who may be developing a mental health issue.

However, mental health first aiders “are not trained to be therapists or psychiatrists but they can offer initial support through non-judgemental listening and guidance.”

MHFA England also adds that embedding mental health first aid training within any organisation or community encourages people to talk more freely about their mental health, which in turn reduces stigma and allows for a more positive culture.

How do I become a mental health first aider?

In order to become a mental health first aider you need to complete a two day mental health first aid course.

The course is a comprehensive awareness and skills course, and includes a mix of presentations, discussions and group work activities.

Every MHFA course is delivered by a quality assured instructor who has completed an Instructor Training programme which has been accredited by the Royal Society for Public Health.

Who can attend a mental health first aid course?

Anyone can attend an MHFA course, but “an interest in mental health and wellbeing is desirable,” adds MHFA England.

When you have completed the course, you will receive a certificate which will confirm that you are a trained Mental Health First Aider and a fold-out card which summarises the five-step MHFA action plan to be carried on you.#

MHFA England offers a two-day course which qualifies you as a Mental Health First Aider and gives you a range of skills and knowledge, including in-depth understanding of mental health and the factors that can affect wellbeing, and practical skills to spot the triggers and signs of mental health issues.

The course costs £300 per person, which may be paid by your employer or organisation.

MHFA Scotland, MHFA Wales and MHFA Northern Ireland also all run a variety of courses and training in relation to mental health, but this may vary depending on where in the UK you live.