SMEs need to support their Mental Health First Aiders especially during COVID-19

Christine Husbands Managing Director, RedArc, considers the importance of support for MHFAs during Covid-19

Over recent years, every workplace has seen an increase in demand for mental health support and that applies as much to SMEs as it does to large corporates. This has led to a rise in the number of employees being trained as mental health first aiders (MHFAs), but RedArc is warning that this group are under additional pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic, and therefore it’s vitally important that they have access to professional help to support them in this role.

MHFAs are not only dealing with the additional stresses and anxieties of their colleagues at this time but they are of course only human and will be experiencing their own personal concerns: changing work patterns, working from home, varying family and living situations, as well as the issues of social isolation and job security will be on most people’s minds.

Many MHFAs play a key role in the health and wellbeing strategy of small businesses and as a voluntary role, many do so willingly as an addition to their day-to-day work. However, employers need to be aware that this ‘extra-curricular’ activity will be more time consuming than it was prior to COVID-19 and employers need to ensure that this group are property supported and their welfare safeguarded much in the same way that other professionals are supported e.g. nurses and counsellors.

A list of practical steps might include:

A buddy system – where MHFAs have an opportunity for a one-to-one with someone they really trust.

An online support group, intranet or chat group for immediate feedback.

An opportunity to refresh their knowledge via additional courses.

The ability to record time for a supervisor who can monitor their workload and take appropriate steps.

Offer MHFAs their own wellbeing time – self-care is vital for this group.

Most importantly, direct access to a clinically trained mental health professional themselves to ensure they maintain good mental health and have an expert on hand if they become overwhelmed or need additional advice for a colleague.

MHFAs will be au fait with the concept of setting boundaries, as that forms a core part of their initial training. The MHFA is there to signpost colleagues to the various support services that the employer has in place, including that of trained professionals. However, as caring individuals, many will find the needs of colleagues playing on their minds after work hours and will often go above and beyond to support them, potentially endangering their own mental wellbeing. This is particularly true in smaller businesses where teams work closely together and are more involved in each other’s home lives than they might be in a bigger business.

The rise of the MHFA is a real sign of the times and those who put themselves forward should be applauded. However sometimes gratitude isn’t enough for this group and they may need a reminder about keeping within safe operational boundaries and be able to access professional support for their role as well as for themselves.