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Mental Health First Aiders – FAQs

Following on from our webinar on the 21st March, our panel of experts have put together all of the questions that arose from our discussion around the topic of Mental Health First Aiders.

Mental Health First Aiders - FAQs

How do you support your Mental health first aider (MHFA) team?

We recommend that ongoing support is provided to all MHFA’s beyond completion of the MHFA training. It is necessary to do refresher training (approx. every 3 years) and ideally ongoing ‘continued professional development’ should be provided as well as regular opportunities for debriefing / seeking support. One way of supporting your MHFAs in the workplace is by creating a buddy system amongst the MHFAs. That way the individuals carrying out the role of MHFAs have a support structure in place amongst themselves. All trained MHFAs can also reach out to management to discuss any concerns they have or to seek any further support they need.

How do you ensure clinical governance around MHFA?

MHFAs are not qualified mental health medical professionals and they should not be diagnosing or giving medical advice, however, their training will equip them to provide initial support to those experiencing symptoms of mental ill health, and to signpost to further professional help when needed. The MHFA training makes the boundaries of the MHFA role very clear and there should be clearly defined role specifications, procedures and support pathways in place to ensure that individuals are referred on appropriately. There should be peer support in place for MHFAs and a system in place to ensure no individual or individuals are overloaded.

How do you prevent MHFA from handling situations that are for qualified individuals such as their GP or EAP?

The MHFA training makes this clear, it should be made clear in the MHFA role specification and procedures and discussed during regular MHFA peer support and MHFA surgery sessions. It is important to ensure that where an Employee Assistance Programme is in place, all MHFAs have details of that scheme available so they are able to instantly share details of the scheme with those who require support. If in doubt due to serious concerns then using 999 or Samaritans is an option.

Do you think MHFA will become a legal requirement for businesses eventually?

This is something which is certainly on the Government’s radar as there is currently a Bill being heard in Parliament about making MHFAs a legal requirement for workplaces. It is still in the very early stages and therefore it is not clear at this stage what the outcome will be. What is clear is that this is an area which is being taken very seriously and it would not be surprising if measures were put in place regarding MHFAs in the workplace.

How do you protect MHFAs from the potential stresses of the role?

There should be some data collected as to the type and number of interactions MHFA are having, to ensure no one individual or individuals are overloaded. MHFAs should be encouraged to maintain regular self-care practice, to lean in to all support provisions available in their organisation, to engage in peer support, and to take a break from their role as a  MHFA to prioritise their own wellbeing as needed. It is also important that those who volunteer to be MHFAs have the support of their managers.  So they have the time to do both their core role and their MHFA duties without feeling pressurised to cram work into spare time to make up for time spent on MHFA duties.

What first steps would you recommend to creating a strategy to integrate pro-active mental health first aid across the workforce?

The Thriving at Work Report and the recent NICE Workplace Mental Health Guidelines provide a good baseline for what all organisations should be doing on workplace mental health – this includes some guidance on training. There does need to be a plan in place and we recommend taking a holistic view of the integration of mental health first aiders into a business – ie it should be one component in a strategy that also comprises training for line managers, awareness training and education for all staff, peer support, and a documented framework for support and signposting.  It is also worth ensuring you have senior manager sponsorship, strong links with Occupational Health if available and also raising awareness via any works councils or employee forums helps ensure there is buy in at all levels.

How can schools access training for MHFA?

Schools should be considering both Youth MHFA training and Adults MHFA training so that there are people within every school who have the skills and knowledge to support the mental health needs of students and teaching staff.

What are the negatives associated with having MHFAs in the workplace and what is the best way to manage this without removing MHFAs from the company?

The only potential negatives are the potential for MHFAs to become overloaded, or for MHFAs to overstep the boundaries of their role. Both would be avoided if a suitable framework is in place around them, and if adequate ongoing support and training is provided.

How often do MHFA qualifications need updating?

The recommendation is every 3 years, however it is recommended that MHFAs receive regular ongoing training and support.

Would you suggest using a different name for a MHFA, maybe a MH champion, to encompass the wider pro-active role?

This may be a good idea – whatever name they are given, it is essential that MHFAs are empowered to take a proactive approach to organisational mental health and that they have the bandwidth to be able to discharge their responsibilities.  The name should reflect the culture of the organisation, the key aspect is awareness and accessibility – identifying a name for your company that supports this is key.

Do you recommend a structured approach to MHFA supervision?

Yes – there should be a framework in place to ensure that MHFAs are fully supported themselves and so that individuals are supported beyond the support the MHFAs provide.

Have you had any safeguarding issues in relation to staff they see and do you follow your normal safeguarding pathway?

Safeguarding issues are relatively uncommon, however, if they do occur, the normal safeguarding procedure of the organisation should be followed.

What suggestions do you have to raise the profile of the MHFA group in an organisation, particularly with agile working?

Details of your MHFAs should be posted somewhere that everyone can access easily – a specific area on an intranet or whatever alternative exists. Regular comms involving the MHFAs, webinar sessions, Q&A sessions and mental wellbeing drop in sessions are all ideas that may work well.

What questions/factors should you look at to determine whether your procedure/policy in respect of MHFAs is or isn’t working?

It really depends on what your measure of success is! We would suggest regular wellbeing surveys – if the results of wellbeing surveys suggest that the culture is becoming more open, more psychologically safe, if people are asking for help or referring colleagues to MHFAs as a safe and effective pair of hands – these would be strong indicators of success.

Should volunteers be DBS checked?

There is not currently a requirement for MHFAs to be DBS checked.

What is classed as a good ratio of MHFA to staff numbers?

There is not a magic number. It depends on the nature of the organisation, the work carried out, the organisational structure, the geographical spread, working patterns and conditions. We would give specific advice personalised to the organisation and taking all these and other factors in to consideration. There is no such things as too many MHFAs!

Contact a specialist

Jamie Gamble

Partner | Employment

+44 (0) 330 137 3164

+44 (0)751 519 9925

Email Jamie Gamble

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Claire Turner

Solicitor | Employment

+44 (0)330 137 3180

+44 (0)759 578 1841

Email Claire Turner

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