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Mental health first aid: how to respond to a mental health emergency

Mental health meeting

In the first few minutes after an injury, providing first aid can help save limbs and lives. It's an essential act we can all perform with a little training. Now imagine providing mental health first aid. The goal is the same - offering initial support until appropriate professional help is available - and it's just as essential.

"We tend to think that mental health issues are rare, or happen to other people, but in reality one in five of us will experience a mental illness in the course of a year," says WSPS account manager Krista Schmid. "In this sense, it could happen to any one of us at any time."

Schmid is one of a new kind of first aid trainers. She delivers mental health first aid (MHFA), a new two-day training course offered by WSPS. Like traditional first aid training, MHFA doesn't teach people how to treat or diagnose.

"MHFA helps you recognize symptoms of possible mental health problems, such as presenteeism, anxiety, depression, and withdrawal, and gives you skills to start a conversation and help people find the support they need," explains Schmid. It also directs you to online and community-based resources, which you can access and share back at work.

The training is geared to everyone from joint health and safety committee members to supervisors, managers and others.

Why mental health is a workplace issue

The workplace can play an essential part in maintaining positive mental health. It can also contribute to mental health problems and illness. Here's a sampling of workplace factors that can influence mental health:

  • organizational culture,
  • psychological and social support,
  • clear leadership and expectations,
  • civility and respect,
  • recognition and reward,
  • workload management,
  • balance,
  • growth and development,
  • psychological protection.

How MHFA adds value to your health and safety program

"From an organizational perspective," says Schmid, "MHFA can strengthen workplace culture, increase employee engagement, improve productivity, and reduce costs."

It's a training investment that could pay for itself many times over. The Mental Health Commission of Canada notes that mental health problems and illnesses typically account for 30% of disability claims and 70% of their total costs, yet only 34% of employees report having ready access to services and tools at work to help with mental health issues.

This lack of access results in part from stigma associated with mental health problems. Stigma can hinder employees from seeking appropriate help for themselves. It can also hinder co-workers and supervisors from offering help.

"Stigma often comes from fear," explains Schmid. "People don't understand or know what to do. MHFA training provides knowledge and understanding, gives people more confidence, and helps them be more respectful to others. These are skills we can use not only in our workplaces but in our everyday lives."

How WSPS can help

  • Learn more about mental health and the workplace at WSPS' online mental health resource page. Among the resources: e-courses complementary downloads, articles, and videos.
  • Sign up for Mental Health First Aid, available onsite or in a classroom setting.
  • Register for one of these five Networking and Knowledge Exchange sessions: Mental Health - Psychological Health & Safety taking place between March 31 and June 22. Space is limited, so contact Customer Care today: 1-877-494-WSPS (9777);
  • Talk to a consultant about opportunities to develop a planned, target-driven approach to creating a healthy workplace, including implementing CSA Z1003, Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. Contact Customer Care: 1-877-494-WSPS (9777);