Carrie Pairman: Mental health first aid is a must for businesses to fully support their staff

Carrie Pairman

It is estimated that a quarter of us will experience a mental health problem each year. In fact, evidence published by Office of National Statistics in July 2016 suggests that 12.7% of all sickness days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions.

Thankfully, the stigma surrounding mental health is reducing, and individuals are becoming more open about their experiences; however, many will stop short of being 100% open about this at work.

To counteract this, organisations are training employees to act as mental health first aiders. This is a role I hold for Brightsolid, in addition to being marketing manager.

I am the go-to person within Brightsolid, should any employees want to discuss a mental health problem, which could include everything from anxiety and depression to addiction and suicide.

While I am not a trained counsellor or therapist, I am able to listen to and guide colleagues in the direction of support, just as a physical first aider would help an injured employee access a doctor or get to a hospital.

It is vital that anyone who assumes the role of mental health first aider makes themselves known within the business. They should be open about why such a role is important for their organisation, and regularly promote it, be that in meetings, informal drop-ins or in a newsletter.

It is important to help cultivate openness, so that businesses can work towards creating a culture and environment that encourages employees to come forward and share.

On the other hand, it is important that mental health first aiders receive support themselves. I regularly meet with the group that I trained with. We anonymously discuss any referrals that we might have made since we last met, or challenges we might be experiencing ourselves. It is also important to attend regular training sessions, including refreshers on mental health first aid or more detailed sessions on specific topics, such as suicide prevention.

Ultimately, being a mental health first aider is about being there for colleagues and offering your time to ensure you can support them, no matter their state of mind.

Carrie Pairman is marketing manager and mental health first aider at Brightsolid