As a confidential adviser, how do you offer first aid for mental health issues?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) calls mental health issues the disease of this century. Indeed, the number of people with anxiety, depression, or burnout is increasing by 10% a year. Mental difficulties also make themselves felt in the workplace.
To know how to respond appropriately as a confidential adviser, a refresher training
"First Aid Mental Health" can be very useful. 

As a confidential adviser, you are an important point of contact for colleagues with mental health issues.
If an employee turns to you for help, don’t start diagnosing them. Instead, notice and correctly name the complaints and symptoms. 

To respond correctly and refer them to professionals if necessary, it’s best to have had a 'First Aid Mental Health' (FAMH) training.

These 7 basics will help you get started. 

1. Be alert for changes in behaviour

Employees inevitably bring their worries to work with them, which can lead to lower productivity, more mistakes, and conflicts with colleagues. Therefore, be alert for behavioural changes and discuss them
when the employee comes for a meeting. 

2. Check whether there is an acute risk

Has an employee received unexpected, negative news? Is a colleague experiencing persistent stress?
Is an employee having a panic attack? That’s when emotions can run high. At that point, it’s important to check immediately whether the employee poses a danger to themselves or others.  

Where necessary, act as a confidential adviser as quickly as possible, without putting yourself at risk.
This can be done, for example, by calling the emergency services or sending the employee in question home.
In the latter case, always check whether the employee can get home safely. If not, you can, for example, call a taxi or contact a family member to come pick up the employee using the ICE data. When taking such actions, always coordinate with HR so that everyone is informed.

3. Check whether the employee has a support network

In 2022, 32% of the Belgian population felt very lonely. However, a support network can do wonders for mental difficulties. Therefore, ask employees coming for meetings if they can turn to family members or close friends with their problems.  

Is there nowhere for the employee to go? Then find out why their network has fallen away, and help look for ways for the employee to rebuild it. 

Different coping strategies can also help relieve worries (temporarily). For example, encourage the employee to make more time for activities that bring them peace of mind.

4. Listen to the employee

Take plenty of time for a conversation and show the employee that they have your full attention, for example by asking questions and keeping an open mind. This way, the employee feels safe to talk candidly.  

5. Reassure the employee

As a confidential adviser, it is important to exude calm yourself in difficult situations. This is essential to reassure the struggling employee. In the FAMH course, you will discover what depression, burnout,
and panic attacks, among other things, entail. That way, you know what to expect and can respond correctly.  

A panic attack is not life-threatening, but it can feel that way to the person having the attack. In that case,
you reassure the employee by stating that they are having a panic attack, which will go away on its own.
Is the employee not calming down? Then call the emergency services.

6. Encourage the employee to seek professional help

Employees with mental health issues can turn to an extensive network of professional experts.
Based on the issues employees experience, you can point them in the right direction: 

  • Employees can anonymously contact Tele-Onthaal (Dutch) or Tele-Accueil (French) for both major and minor issues. Volunteers are available day and night via phone or chat.
  • Volunteers with the Suicide Hotline are available around the clock to help people with suicidal thoughts (Dutch: Zelfmoordlijn / French: Prevention Suicide). But employees who are concerned about someone with suicidal thoughts or have lost a loved one to suicide are also referred to this helpline.
  • Employees can turn to a psychologist for personal counselling. A comprehensive overview of the different psychologists and their specialisations can be found on (Dutch).
    Furthermore, employees can also call on the psychosocial prevention adviser. 

Is an employee having a hard time reaching out for professional help on their own? Then you can help them make the appointment. After the session, you then follow up on how the conversation went.

7. Encourage the employee to ask for support from family and friends

People with mental difficulties often end up with tunnel vision. Discussing worries with family or friends then offers new perspectives, which can help put the problem into perspective or find a solution. So urge the employee to discuss the problem and seek support from others because you are always stronger together. 

Thematic supervision confidential adviser: providing mental health first aid

The theme of this year’s thematic supervision confidential adviser is First Aid Mental Health. An expert offers insights on how to have conversations around mental well-being and support employees from your role as confidential adviser, while sharing knowledge and experiences with fellow professionals.

The training is recognised as annual continuing education.

Sign up for the training course - DUTCH >> 
Sign up for the training course - FRENCH >>