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Mandating Mental Health First Aid

Mandating Mental Health First Aid
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Anastasia Vinnikova, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at CMHA UK, discusses the new law requiring businesses to offer MHFA training, presented to Parliament in January 2023 (this article was first featured in the Collaboration Journal ).

It has been many years since campaigners first pressured the government to mandate Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) in workplaces. After all, physical health first aid has been a legislative requirement since 1981. After much work and effort on the part of advocates, charities, and passionate people, in January 2023 a law requiring businesses to offer MHFA training was presented to parliament.

Mental Health First Aid is a brilliant tool. It is a qualification backed by a comprehensive, compassionate and practical learning course. As a MHFA-er myself, I can vouch for the important skills it gave me, not just for use in the workplace, but which I could and have used in my personal life. Ensuring that both mental and physical first aid are workplace requirements is as practically useful, as it is symbolic of the movement towards parity between mental and physical health. It also emphasises the important role businesses can play in wider public health and societal understanding of psychological wellbeing.

However, MHFA on its own is not enough to create the mentally healthy workplaces of the future which are going to shape and influence a broader society in which people can thrive, rather than just survive. Workplaces are complex machines, with layers of systems, processes and cultural norms (some tangible, some not) each impacting upon the
individuals making up the workforce and their lives beyond the confines of their employment.

As evidenced in many mental health publications, including the September 2022 World Health Organisation mental health at work guidelines, sustained change is multifaceted. In my role at the City Mental Health Alliance, we believe that it is hinged on three pillars - the culture of wellbeing and the psychological safety your employees feel, the working environment and how you ensure that those important personal and professional life touch points are dealt with in a human-centric way, as well as the tools and resources for support that you can provide. MHFA can fit into a number of those categories but cannot cover the entire ground on its own.

At the crux of the matter is a recognition that there is no golden ticket which will fix workplace wellbeing – it cannot be one tool on its own, but rather a plethora of initiatives, resources and frameworks which will shift organisational culture. Focussing solely on one intervention in isolation generates the danger of it becoming a tick-box exercise.

The very fact that workplace mental health interventions are being discussed at parliament is a positive step forward. And the MFHA is a great qualification. I hope that this is one part of more awareness and encouragement of a holistic view of workplace wellbeing, looking at entire systems and processes rather than offering a ‘simple’ solution to a highly complex issue.

Anastasia Vinnikova, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at City Mental Health Alliance

Anastasia is also a Charity Board Trustee at InspireUK , a Lived Experience Advisor (Policy, Partnerships and Research Committee) at the Samaritans, and Founder of Winning Minds.

Thank you to the Collaboration Journal for allowing us to repost this article, originally shared in the February edition of the journal here .