What attributes are required for a workplace mental health ambassador?

What attributes should employers look for in a mental health ambassador

Need to know: 

  • Taking a proactive approach and investing in employees’ mental wellbeing has become a key issue for many employers.
  • Employers must understand the role and responsiblities of a mental health ambassador to appoint the most appropriate people to champion an environment of good mental health.
  • A mental health ambassador should be open to conversations with colleagues about mental health issues and be able to guide someone to the appropriate professional support.

A key issue for employers that has arisen from the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic is the need to support the mental health of employees.

Many employees have experienced feelings of isolation, anxiety and stress due to lockdowns, consequent changes to working environments and the impact of the virus itself. To safeguard the mental health of staff, organisations can look to train mental health first aiders and ambassadors. A mental health first aider is an employee that has trained to achieve a qualification which gives them an in-depth understanding of mental health; practical skills to spot the signs of mental health issues, and the knowledge to help support a colleague by guiding them to further support. These ambassadors are often a figurehead for in a workplace environment that supports open conversations about mental health.

Malcolm Cairns, chief executive at digital health firm Reframe, says: “With such widespread uncertainty at the moment, it is positive to see that more organisations are taking a proactive approach and investing in their employees’ mental health and wellbeing.

“Mental health ambassadors provide an invaluable service and allow employees to discuss sensitive issues which they may feel uncomfortable bringing up with other staff.” 

The benefits of a mental health first ambassador

Training employees in mental health first aid can help to address the issues being raised by their colleagues. Andrew Marchant, rehabilitation manager and mental health first aider at Canada Life, says: “Employees will always need support, but they will not always know where to get help from. Having a role as a first aider is vital to provide help for staff.

“Staff can benefit massively from having a team of qualified [individuals] that are easy to contact at a moment’s notice across the whole organisation.”

Having that visible point of contact can encourage employees to speak up more about what they are struggling with, which can help to reduce the stigma of poor mental health.

Bethan Dacey, senior client relationship manager and mental health ambassador at Metlife UK, says: “Organisations can benefit from having a happy and engaged workforce. It will help reduce sickness levels and boost morale.

“Far too often, employees call in sick because there is a taboo around admitting to mental health issues, it can really drive bad behaviour, which is why it is so important for employees to have someone that they can speak to if they are struggling.”

Attributes of a good mental health first ambassador

More than anything, employees want someone they can trust and are comfortable speaking to about what could be a very sensitive and difficult subject. A mental health ambassador can put people at ease by offering advice and support, says Cairns. “Not only should they be equipped to listen, but also to educate others to recognise signs and symptoms when a person’s wellbeing is being negatively impacted,” he says.

An ambassador should have an empathetic and non-judgemental view, adds Marchant. “There is so much stigma attached to mental health, so employers need qualified staff to drive the initiative forward,” he says. “It is imperative for mental health first aiders to enjoy supporting people, and to fully understand the time commitments of the role. It is mainly around personality and being a human being.” 

In addition, mental health first aiders must be good listeners; a key aspect of the role is not being there to solve problems, but to listen and know what support is available. This includes actively signposting mental health support and being available for employees to talk to. A key aspect for mental health ambassadors is to promote wellbeing initiatives, says Dr Peter Mills, European medical director at Cigna. “Actively promoting levels of support can increase awareness around mental health and break down barriers that may occur,” he explains. “Mental health first aiders, champions, or ambassadors should have an interest in the cause, and they will learn the rest of the aspects of the job along the way.”

It is equally important for an ambassador to recognise where the boundaries of their role lies, and to understand when to direct an employee to further support. While the persona of an ambassador or aider is important, it is essential to not misinterpret the role itself, says Christine Husbands, managing director at RedArc. “First aiders and ambassadors all too often take on too much much work,” she says. “Mental health first aiders are qualified, but they are not experts. Knowing where their limitations are is important to support employees appropriately.

“The role of an ambassador can often be misunderstood by organisations and employees, consequently leading to a high number of issues that they may not have they answer to. They can not handle this workload alongside their main responsibilities in their roles as they are not professionals.” 

Trained mental health ambassadors can be an important part of an organisation’s wellbeing strategy. Beyond investing in training, it is vital to ensure that employers are onboarding staff with the right attributes and creating a diverse pool of ambassadors to support a workforce and reduce the stigma around mental health.

As Cairns concludes: “Organisations understand that by providing good support, their people can maintain the resilience to cope with life and its events as these come up. Mental health ambassadors can be a useful part of this pool of support.”