Mental Health Awareness Vs. Mental Health First Aid


At the Modern Mind Group we have been asked the difference between Mental Health Awareness and Mental Health First Aid courses. As we want to be transparent and upfront with our clients and customers, I would like to cover the similarities and differences as well as dispelling the myths.


Am I required as a business to do either by law? Just to make everyone aware Mental Health First Aid is not a legislative requirement as well as Mental Health Awareness courses are not either. What is required by the law is to safeguard and prevent against mental health discrimination.


How do I safeguard and prevent against mental health discrimination?


Well this question is quite a challenge to answer and would have to include a full discovery of a business to look at their current practices and develop a mental health and wellbeing plan. Of course, one of the main areas of this mental health and wellbeing plan would be to educate and inform the workforce on mental health so that they became more aware and understand what mental health is (and is not). Leading us back to education and training. Both Mental Health First Aid and Mental Health Awareness Courses should educate the learner to a higher level of understanding.


So what’s the difference between Mental Health First Aid and Mental Health Awareness and why do both exist?


Mental Health First Aid was created in Australia by Betty Kitchner in 2001 who identified that mental health courses should be there to give knowledge, build confidence, de-stigmatise and provide increased support. The ethos is also that we had First Aid for Physical Health so why not have it for Mental Health as well?! This can be seen as both a negative and a positive which I will talk about a little later.


The Mental Health First Aid license was then obtained and training set up by Mental Health First Aid England and they are the licence holders of this course in the UK. It is delivered as a 2 Day course and businesses are choosing to send a few people from a workplace to be appointed Mental Health First Aiders and then people can choose to go on to be an instructor.


Mental Health Awareness Courses are generally offered by many companies and can vary in length as well as content. The right Mental Health Awareness Course should offer the same as a Mental Health First Aid course in that it should provide clear knowledge, build confidence, de-stigmatise and provide increased support.


The challenge is with many companies out there offering different courses the waters can become muddied losing the trust of the customer or client and some courses adding very little benefit to the learner. For example, some courses can be 20 mins, an hour-long, a day or a week. I would recommend choosing a Mental Health Awareness Course that gives enough time to cover most aspects of Mental Health so at least a day in length.


An e-learning or distance learning course should suggest the same timeframe with the bonus being that they are able to complete in their own time. This way faster learners can complete in less time and those needing more understanding or slower pace can also do this over a longer period. As a business this is also why only a select number of the workforce are sent on a Mental Health First Aid course as this is 2 days minimum and therefore would greatly impact the business if everyone were to complete it.


This brings me back to the point I made earlier about having an appointed mental health first aider in the workplace. Whilst it can be viewed as the company doing something positive and taking mental health seriously, the negative or downside is just by having this person appointed does not necessarily mean that people will open up to them. There are still reports of mental health first aiders being appointed in the workplace and still having people take their own lives through suicide. Just as having an EAP (employee assistance programme) does not always mean that employees will use it.


There is also the added fact that the stigma around mental health still exists in the workplace so speaking to a mental health first aider that requires documentation and recording of a crisis can put a person off opening up about their emotions. Their mind will sense check the confidentiality and often in a heightened state this may stop them from speaking to anyone. So, to conclude on this point Mental Health First Aid is only part of the solution. It all comes down to trust.


Conclusion


Let’s go back to the beginning point about that the overall aim is to educate and inform everyone so that we can ensure there is less discrimination, help people to open up and de-stigmatise mental health. Also considering that 1 in 4 people identify with a mental health illness, then the solution from my perspective is not whether you choose between mental health awareness or mental health first aid, it is to ensure that everyone in your workforce is educated in mental health and it is refreshed regularly.


Then I would appoint, Mental Health Champions, an executive champion on the board, Followed by a senior operational champion and then some champions at middle management. That is three levels to ensure that your mental health and wellbeing programme is being implemented and discussed often to remove roadblocks to success and drive accountability. To anyone out there considering mental health training for their staff I have 4 points of consideration for you: 1) Ensure that you work with a company that will provide ongoing support to ensure you are implementing a positive mental health and wellbeing culture, not just training your staff


2) Ensure all your employees have the benefit of accredited mental health training whether mental health awareness or mental health first aid. Make it widely available. 2) Assign or ask for volunteers to establish Mental Health Champions at three levels. From board level down. This will promote a positive outlook on mental health and wellbeing for the future. 3) Knowledge is only 1 part of it - ongoing behaviours and creating positive environment will make the difference. Ensure all leaders have strong emotional intelligence and people leadership skills. – Consider getting a mental health consultant or non-executive director to support your mental health and wellbeing programme who drives singular focus with high level discussions on a monthly basis.


I hope this will help you in your decision for mental health training. Let’s create a happier healthier team!


The Modern Mind Group offer mental health training as eLearning or via classroom training as well as mental health and wellbeing blueprints or programmes through business consultancy. Here is the link – https://www.modernmindgroup.co.uk/mental-health-training

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