First aid for mental health problems in the workplace

1 in 3 Belgians are unhappy, 10% suffers a psychic disorder, such as depression. Also, the number of psychic complaints is growing due to the corona measures. As an employer, prevention advisor or manager, it is important to track down and deal with mental health issues in good time.

The First Aid for Mental Health Issues method (FAMH for short) provides managers the skills they require.“Let’s be clear: FAMH is not intended to train them to become professional First Aid responders”, explains Marianne Van Hees, prevention expert in psychosocial aspects at Mensura.

“The training focuses predominantly on recognising psychosocial issues at an early stage, offering support and referring employees more quickly. In this way, managers can help a colleague who is developing a psychic illness or going through a crisis. In doing so, they can help to prevent severe mental health issues.”

The elephant in the room

Such skills are certainly no luxury. “Despite being increasing common, psychic ailments, such as depression, burn-out and anxiety, are still taboo. It is essential for managers in particular to react appropriately when approached by an employee for help. After all, professional help is not always at hand.”

Clear impact of Corona

The focus on mental health issues has never been greater due to the corona crisis. A large-scale study showed that the number of Belgians suffering psychic health problems has almost trebled. 60% of whom are encountering problems for the first time.

Not only do employees feel unhappy, the types of ailments are also very varied: ranging from loneliness to insecurity and stress and the risk of team-out. Managers are therefore encountering more and different psychic ailments in their teams.

What’s involved in the FAMH approach?

During the FAMH programme, besides learning to assess the risks, managers also master the art of listening without judgement, reassuring, informing and encouraging the search for appropriate help.

“A whole series of prevention measures is included, such as insights into psychosocial illness, risk analysis and handling behaviour (e.g. coaching, assertiveness training)”, says Boudewijn D’Hauwers, prevention advisor psychosocial aspects at Mensura.

Training programme in 2 parts:

1.     An expert outlines the theoretical context in which he/she explains specific psychic issues: which psychosocial issues will potentially be encountered by managers? What are the causes and consequences? What to do about them?

2.     During the practical part, participants use simulations and role play to discover how to respond appropriately.

First aid for mental health crisis

Some quick first-aid tips for crisis situations (e.g. panic attacks, stress responses) from the training course:

  • remain calm, neutral and patient;
  • move the person to a quiet, safe area;  
  • speak in a clear, slow and comforting manner;
  • help the person control their breathing;
  • let the person tell their story;
  • praise the fact that he or she is confiding in you;
  • focus on maintaining an understanding attitude, not on offering advice;
  • point out the support network available to the person;
  • encourage the person to seek professional help.

“Armed with the relevant knowledge and practice, managers are better prepared to cope with employees who are suffering mental health issues – not to mention with the absenteeism that this can cause,” confirms Marianne.