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HR Coordinators! Pop Quiz: What Is Mental Health First Aid?

08 July 2019

In the U.S., almost every adult knows to call 911 in the face of an emergency situation. First aid training often covers how to help someone who is choking or suffering from a stroke or heart attack. Mental health issues and related crises happen far more frequently, but most employees have no idea how to help a coworker cope with addiction, depression or anxiety.

Mental health first aid in the workplace is no longer optional for a high-performing business. Studies indicate that one in five U.S. adults has a mental illness and 40% need time off as a result of it. Anxiety and depression combined contribute $1 trillion globally ($105 billion in the U.S.) in lost productivity. The World Health Organization cites inadequate health and safety policies at the top of laundry list of risks to mental health.

What Is Mental Health First Aid?

The ways that mental issues can manifest as physical problems are well documented. People who are depressed are less likely to exercise, more likely to acquire a chronic disease and less likely to take care of existing chronic illnesses.

Workers trained on mental health first aid in the workplace can help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. What is mental health first aid? It represents baseline training for employees that equips them to support individuals facing mental health challenges. This training includes:

  • Learning how to recognize the signs of someone who may be struggling with mental health issues, including substance abuse.
  • Understanding how to reach out in non-threatening ways.
  • Encouraging coworkers to open up and accept help.
  • Knowing the various resources available to help distressed individuals.

A culture that supports individuals in need will tend to have employees who are more productive, engaged, loyal to the organizations and focused on productive goals. Research suggests that for every dollar spent on mental health first aid, an organization will recoup four dollars in productivity, engagement, health care cost savings and attendance.

How to Approach Mental Health First Aid

You will understand mental health first aid by the components essential to a comprehensive approach. The factors that have created a mental health epidemic are many and varied. Approaches to mental health first aid in the workplace must be holistic to be effective.

Wellness Programs and Resources

Wellness programs that account for physical, financial and mental well-being are incredibly important because they improve work-life balance.

Resources are essential. Especially resources that address dealing with aging parents, raising children, collaborating effectively, dealing with difficult personalities, planning for retirement and more.


Manager training is needed to prepare leaders for the specific challenges of supporting employees struggling with mental illness. Front-line managers in particular interact with employees most frequently and are most likely to be able to identify and address problems earlier.

Employee training complements manager training and encourages more helpful attitudes towards mental illness in ways that can create a stronger support network, a deeper and more inclusive environment and a more highly developed sense teamwork and belonging.

Risk Management

Risk management should look closely at the consequences of mental illness at individual, team and organizational levels. Mental illness can contribute to more accidents at work, among other risks. A clear understanding of those contingencies and a strategy to manage and recover from them will make your business more resilient.

Strong Communication

Communication and ongoing reinforcement are key. Mental health first aid in the workplace cannot succeed if it is simply launched, trained once and then forgotten. Use annual milestones and success stories to sustain the message.

Take Care of Yourself, Too

At a personal level, you cannot be as effective in supporting others if you don't manage your own mental stresses. Articles such as Offer Mental Health Resources to Improve Work-Life Balance provide an excellent overview of techniques to support your own mental health and practical tips on how you can be a stronger ally for mental health.