Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Call for mental health first aid

Call for mental health first aid 
Big Issue North, 15-21 October 2018 

Manchester man wants support in workplaces 
One of Barrie Golden’s closest friends committed suicide five years ago. His sister suffers from mental health problems. 
Now, as an employee at a food multinational, the Manchester man wants legislative changes that would force all companies to develop a mental health policy under which the mental health first aider (MHFA) role would have equal parity with a general first aider. 
Almost 200,000 MHFAs were trained in the UK in the decade from 2007. Training was first developed for members of the public but more recently there has been a jump in training in workplace settings. 
The absence of a workplace mental health policy meant it took Golden 18 months to persuade his employer to allow him to undertake two days paid training to become a MHFA. 
Trainees are helped to spot signs of mental health problems, given a deeper understanding of the issues affecting people’s mental health and provided with practical skills for everyday use. 
One in four suffer 
“The course was very helpful,” said Golden. “Like other students I left enthusiastic to help people and believe I have done so. 
“I find people who know of my role are more likely to open up about their problems. Just like first aiders I can signpost people if they need further specialist help. 
“The training demonstrated how widespread mental health problems are, with one in four people suffering throughout their life. The economic impact is damaging for individuals, their families, companies and the economy.” 
MHFAs have a different status to first aiders who are identified under Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981. These regulations require all employers to provide appropriate equipment, facilities and personnel to ensure employees receive immediate attention when injured or taken ill at work. 
They also require employers to undertake a needs assessment, to ensure that first aid provision reflects the workplace needs. As part of the assessment companies may decide to train MHFAs but the majority do not, although there are no official figures. 
Golden believes the law should be strengthened so that employers must have a mental health policy that includes a requirement placing the MHFA role on a par with a first aider. 
“As an elected union rep I get stand-down time at work when I represent people but no such policy exists for my MHFA role,” he said. “I have though now persuaded my employer to examine introducing a European-wide mental health policy and I am also gathering support, including within the Labour Party, for nationwide legal changes.” 
Strong evidence base 
Fionuala Bonnar, chief operating officer, Mental Health First Aid England, the body overseeing training courses, praised Golden’s initiative. 
“We are calling on the government to ensure all workplaces are required to make provision for mental health first aid, as they do physical first aid,” she said. “Nearly 200,000 people
have shown their support by signing the campaign petition so far.” 
Bonnar contends that mental health first aid has a strong evidence base, with over 70 international studies highlighting its effectiveness. 
But that has been questioned by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). 
A spokesperson referred to a study commissioned by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health. “The early findings from research into the effectiveness of mental health first aid has found that the training has value in raising participants’ awareness, but participants often feel it is used by organisations to bypass wider responsibilities to staff,” said the spokesperson. 
“The research was also not able to ascertain whether the training is the best, or the only, means for alerting participants to mental health problems at work. There is no evidence it is cost effective.” 

The HSE is reviewing evidence relating to the impact of workplace mental health first aid. 

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