Why companies should fully utilise their Mental Health First-Aiders

For Mental Health Awareness Week, Emma Flaxman outlines the duties and benefits of Mental Health First-Aiders

Emma Flaxman

Director of Marketing & New Business, PHD UK PHD UK


The industry is facing what has been described as ‘the great resignation’. In a scary, Covid-scarred world, those who remain are overwhelmed, concerned about their future and more anxious than before. 

But it would be wrong to say that poor mental health is just a symptom of what’s going on in wider society, and there are clear reasons why employers should take this issue on.

Poor mental health in the workplace is often attributable to conditions within companies and can result in decreased productivity, as individuals take periods of time away from work or, potentially, leave their roles entirely.

Mental Health First-Aiders are at least a part of the solution. I trained as one in 2019, and while some might suggest these volunteers represent a band-aid over an existing wound, I think they can offer much more than that.

The core skill set of Mental Health First Aid enables you to understand the mind and body better. You learn how the chemical changes in our bodies affect how we think, feel and behave. In turn, if you’re more aware of the people around you, you can act accordingly. This new skill and understanding can alert you when someone needs help. 

If all that companies do with their Mental Health First-Aiders is to train them and hope they become helpful to the workforce, it’s a waste of money

Emma Flaxman, Director of Marketing & New Business, PHD UK

The training also teaches us how to really listen to someone; how to be truly sympathetic and use your own personal experience to empathise. It makes us better colleagues, better line managers, better leaders.

The average cost of training someone in mental health first aid is around £290 - not exactly expensive when you consider that mental ill-health costs UK employers an estimated £34.9bn a year. 

However, if all that companies do with their Mental Health First-Aiders is to train them and hope they become helpful to the workforce, it’s a waste of money. 

The role of a Mental Health First-Aider needs to go beyond waiting at the end of the phone for those tricky conversations. Mental Health First-Aiders learn to openly talk about mental health as if it’s the norm, and they need to become champions of opening up the conversation on mental health. 

I’ve just finished reading a book by Michelle Morgan, entitled Own your Awkward: How to Have Better and Braver Conversations About Our Mental Health. I highly recommend a read if you want to understand how you can play your own part. 

In the meantime, here are just a few ways I believe companies should utilise their Mental Health First-Aiders:

  1. Shout about who you have trained. There is no point spending money on training if no one knows which of their colleagues are trained. 
  2. Allow leaders to learn from them. The data from MH First-Aiders is strictly confidential but - with individual anonymity protected - business leaders need to listen to the reasons why their people are unwell. Training teams properly - at all levels - is a start. Leaders need to understand when poor mental health comes directly from mistakes in the workforce and work hard to ensure those mistakes don’t continue. 
  3. Allow line managers to speak to MH First-Aiders about people they are concerned about. Remember: poor performance by a good employee will most likely have an underlying reason. It could be that they no longer enjoy their job, or it could be something else entirely. Take the time to find out, but bear in mind that Mental Health First-Aiders may be able to read the signs better than you.
  4. If you have enough willing Mental Health First-Aiders, create mandatory mental health check-ins. Knowing that conversations are confidential may encourage your employees to become more honest about how they are feeling. If you don’t have enough First-Aiders, ensure your company’s line managers are asking the right questions and allow them access to your First-Aiders for advice on how to go about it. 
  5. Ensure your wellbeing teams and your First-Aiders are one and the same. As mental health first-aid is not currently mandatory training, those who sign up for it genuinely want to help people and learn a new skill. Use this to your advantage. These people’s passion to improve the wellbeing of the people they work with will deliver regular and improved wellbeing initiatives for the company as a whole.

According to mental health charity Mind, one in four people are diagnosed with a common mental health issue. Clearly, not all of those start in the workplace. But if businesses do not utilise the newfound skillset of a Mental Health First-Aider, they are missing a trick. 

Mental Health First-Aiders represent a genuine added value in the workplace. Businesses who embrace this system could potentially help towards saving a life. At the very least, they will certainly help the mental wellbeing of the people within their walls

Guest Author

Emma Flaxman

Director of Marketing & New Business, PHD UK PHD UK


Emma Flaxman has been a Bloom member and mentor since 2021. Emma is currently Director of Marketing and New Business at PHD UK and is the co-chair of both PHD and Omnicom Media Group’s Mental Health D&I Teams. In Jan 2022, she started www.insanelynormal.co.uk, an open letters blog to encourage people to talk more honestly about their mental health. Emma also works pro bono for Be;Live, a charitable initiative who aim to create the UK’s largest Mental Health events annually. Emma is a mother of two small children, a lover of dance and lives with her family in Kent.

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Mental Health