Treacy Webster and Rebecca Upshall joined us during this Mental Health Awareness Week to discuss Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) – part of a drive to treat employee health holistically and invest in mental as well as physical wellbeing.

Treacy Webster is a CIPD qualified HR professional with extensive experience working in international organisations, whose ability to influence and advise senior leaders through pragmatic and objective problem solving is well supported by a strong commitment to employee engagement and development.

Rebecca Upshall is an experienced Talent Management Specialist with a demonstrated history of working in a variety of sectors. Skilled in talent management, recruitment, employee relations, organisational design and restructure, and much more, Rebecca is a thorough professional and graduated from Home Learning College.

What is mental health first aid (MHFA)?

Rebecca Upshall: Mental Health First Aid is becoming as commonplace across organisations in the UK as physical First Aid. A staggering 70 million work days are lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK, costing employers approximately £2.4 billion per year.

It’s fantastic that Mental Health First Aid England will be working closely with Public Health England for the first time, as part of a new £15M programme to improve resilience and help people recognise and respond effectively to signs of mental health problems – both in themselves and others. As employers, we feel we have a part to play in that, as we spend most of our time at work.

Treacy Webster: Mental Health, like physical health, can fluctuate for any of us at work or in our personal lives. Whilst workplace First Aiders have traditionally been trained to provide first line assistance for physical injury, the same support for mental health concerns has also become a necessity. Mental Health First Aid training allows employers to provide this support for those who might need it, but supporting MHFA in the workplace also raises awareness that will hopefully contribute to decreasing the stigma associated with mental health issues at work.

What does MHFA training involve?

RU: MHFA teaches first aiders how to recognise the warning signs of mental ill health, and to feel comfortable providing support and guidance. To become a Mental Health First Aider, Treacy and I completed a two day MHFA course offered by Ouch. This was a comprehensive course which included a mix of presentations, discussions and group work activities.

As Mental Health First Aiders, we are trained to:

  • Spot the early signs and symptoms of mental ill health
  • Start a supportive conversation with a colleague who may be experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress
  • Listen to the person non-judgementally
  • Assess the risk of harm
  • Encourage the person to access appropriate professional support or self-help strategies – including signposting employees to internal support systems like our Employee Assistance Programme
  • Escalate to appropriate emergency services, if necessary

What are the responsibilities of an MHFA and how do they support their colleagues?

RU: The role of a Mental Health First Aider in the workplace is to provide support for an employee who is experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress. This interaction could range from having an initial conversation through to supporting the person to get appropriate help. As well as in a crisis, Mental Health First Aiders are valuable in providing early intervention help for someone who may be developing a mental health issue.

Mental Health First Aiders are not trained to be therapists or psychiatrists but they can offer initial support through non-judgemental listening and guidance.

TW: I believe an additional responsibility of an MHFA is to raise awareness of mental health issues in the workplace, and to normalise the notion of MHFA. Society’s perception of mental health is changing, but there is still a strong stigma attached. By supporting mental health initiatives in the workplace, MHFAs have the ability to increase awareness.

What skills are needed to be an effective MHFA?


  • Discreetness
  • Empathy
  • The ability to listen, without bias or judgement
  • The ability to remain calm in a crisis
  • Patience
  • Self-awareness

What impact has having trained MHFAs made to Ceuta?

TW: MHFA was introduced to Ceuta last year, with Rebecca and I the first to be trained. Now all of the Talent Managers on our team have been trained as MHFAs. By bringing the knowledge back to Ceuta, we have been able to raise awareness of MH initiatives, such as through this Q&A. We’ve also been able to arrange MH awareness training for Directors and senior managers.

RU: Embedding MHFA training within any organisation or community encourages people to talk more freely about mental health, reducing stigma and creating a more positive culture. Training in MHFA was the first step to creating our strategy for Mental Health Awareness at Ceuta.

How have your MHFAs helped to develop mental health awareness among employees?

RU: We have a great relationship with Dorset Mind, who are Ceuta Healthcare’s charity of the year for the second year running. Not only do we support the fantastic work they do for our community in Dorset, but they in turn have trained 30 of our employees in Mental Health Awareness. After we became trained in Mental Health First Aid we realised how important it was to involve our employees, so they can help to support their colleagues across the business. Dorset Mind visited us during Self Care Week 2018 and delivered Mental Health Awareness Training to 15 Directors and Senior Managers and 15 Mental Health Champions.

We have also created a Wellbeing page on our Academy where we are building a collection of resources for employees and managers to access. Here they can find links to external support and resources, the 5 Ways to Wellbeing Model and a selection of short films about mental health.

In celebration of Mental Health Awareness Week we have launched our course of the Month – Mental Health Awareness. This course includes a Mental Health Quiz, an A-Z of Mental Health and a module to ensure that you feel confident in this area.
Even just by recognising Mental Health Awareness Week we are promoting continuous conversation about mental health, to ensure that it is at the forefront of our minds and for our employees to be reminded that as employers, we want to promote good mental health amongst our teams.

The CIPD recently called for greater emphasis on mental health training and wellbeing initiatives – what advice would you offer to other employers on encouraging a culture of wellbeing in the workplace?


  • Position Mental Health as a Boardroom issue, on par with physical health. If employers can make reasonable adjustments for physical health considerations, then we should be supporting employees in the same way with their mental health. The impact that mental health related absence, as well as presentism, can make to a company’s bottom line is a real issue so the more we can do from a strategic perspective, with management buy in, the better. Promoting wellbeing is a key driver for productivity and maximising performance.
  • Create a culture where it’s okay to talk about mental health. Continuously raise awareness about different initiatives and things employees can do to support themselves and their colleagues. This will help to relieve the stigma and get people talking because they can see that it’s on their employer’s radar.
  • Make employee wellbeing a core part of line manager responsibilities, recruitment and training. Support your managers to maintain their own wellbeing to ensure they can act as the best advocates for both the employee and the business.
  • Promote MHFA and assistance pathways so managers and employees can take appropriate action if they need to. Make sure every team knows who their Mental Health First Aiders are and what they’re responsible for. We want employees to feel confident that they have someone to talk to who will be able to signpost them to appropriate support.
  • Participate in National Awareness Days/Weeks. Look out for things happening throughout the year and raise awareness of them in the business. Self-Care Week is particularly good because every year there is a different theme to promote wellbeing. This year we arranged various activities for our employees, from lunch time walks to talks from personal trainers, training with Dorset Mind and appointments with New Leaf (a health diagnostic machine).