SHILUVAHMental Health First Aider

Kulani Shiluvane
Founder and Chief Consultant – Shiluvah

I recently came across the term Mental Health First Aider (MHFA) and as someone that works and owns a business in the Human Resource space this term immediately sparked my interest especially with regards to how this concept could be used and benefit the workplace.

Mental health issues continue to dominate discussions not only in society in general but also in the workplace as cases of depression, anxiety as well as other mental health issues are on the increase. And in the workplace, while many organisations continue to use their employee wellness programmes to mitigate as well as try providing meaningful solutions around mental health in the workplace, research has shown that such programmes have had little effect.

According to the South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP) one in six South Africans suffer from some level of mental illness such as depression and anxiety. In a population of  ± 56 million that mean roughly 9 million people are affected by mental illness. And while mental illness might be seen as a private matter to be dealt with in our own private spaces, the reality is that we do not leave our mental illness at the door when we get to work or in some cases workplace issues have an impact on our overall mental health. The average employee will spend a minimum of a third of their day at work, therefore it is important that the workplace is adequately equipped to empower as well as support those suffering from any kind of mental illness, after all organisations are required by law to ensure that employees are protected from physical harm, why not ensure that the mental well-being of employees is also taken care of?

So, what is a MHFA and how will they help organisations make an effective difference to the lives of those employees suffering from mental illness in the workplace. Like a general first aider a MHFA is someone WITHIN the organisation that would provide immediate assistance and intervention as well as care to someone experiencing the effects of their mental illness in a manner that promotes recovery, prevents the condition from getting worse and preserves life. And not only that, part of their training is also about identifying common signs and symptoms of mental health illness.

Why is this important in the workplace? Training a member of staff in mental health first aid can help ensure that there is someone in the team who can recognise the signs of mental health in employees when they first develop. This can mean that someone struggling with their mental health can get the help they need much earlier on, and having someone in the office trained in mental health first aid also helps to remove the stigma around talking about the subject.

Training an employee in mental health first aid can benefit companies too. Mental health is one of the most common reasons for long-term sickness and absence from work, and intervening and providing support for staff with these problems as they occur, rather than waiting for the issues to become severe enough to require long periods of time off work, can help save companies time and money.

So, as a business owner and manager, perhaps mental health first aid is something you should consider.


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