Mental health first aiders – supporting with stress and anxiety at work

Mental health at work and Stress counselling Totnes, Paignton and Newton Abbott


I was intrigued to read about mental health first aiders for the office. Sounds a good idea in principle. Too often in my experience, work-based mental health issues are misunderstood and sometimes not given equal weight as physical health issues.

With time off for stress costing organisations significant amounts of money (£8.4 billion per year according to this report), not to speak of the the toll it takes on the individuals concerned, their colleagues and their managers, it seems right to bring more attention to how mental health can be better supported at work.

The office first aider for mental health isn’t giving emergency treatment as such. But it’s an easy to grasp description for someone giving some compassionate attention to a colleague when things aren’t going so well. It could be having a chat with someone away from their desk or the workplace or swapping desks with someone who is in need of some quieter time. Or taking a walk around the block.

I like this concept as it’s a low key but active way of both creating a community of support at work and also finding tools and techniques to help people when they are at their lower points.

Given it has been estimated (see report above) that on average nearly 1 in 6 of their workforce is affected by a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety, it’s an area that merits serious attention. Particularly if you consider that figure rises to over 1 in 5 if alcohol and drug dependence are also included.

So what’s your experience at work whether supporting others or getting support? The Centre for Mental Health’s report in 2010 suggested there was strong evidence that the most effective way to support those at risk of developing mental health issues at work was focus on personal support, individual social skills and coping skills training. Multiple approaches had the most long lasting effects.

As recognition grows for the place employers and colleagues can play in supporting people with mental health at work, I imagine we will see both less stigmatisation and less confusion about how best to go about offering appropriate help. That’s a great kind of first aid in my book.

By Matt Fox Counselling in Totnes, Paignton and Newton Abbott

Image by Marcin Wichary licensed under Creative Commons