Mental health training improves employee health, productivity
Washington DC — Workplaces nationwide are incorporating a new mental health training initiative into existing wellness programs to improve employee health and productivity. Introduced into the United States in 2008, Mental Health First Aid USA teaches participants how to help a person developing signs and symptoms of mental illness and to recognize the risk factors and warning signs of specific illnesses such as anxiety, depression, psychosis and addiction.
“I like to have as much knowledge as possible to help employees,” says Anne LaFleur, vice president of human resources at Pawtucket Credit Union in Pawtucket, RI. “The training made me realize that mental health issues are very common, yet one of the least talked about problems.”
More than one in four Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental health problem in any given year. Mental illness likely costs businesses more than $79 billion a year, $63 billion of it in lost productivity.
Evaluations show that the evidence-based Mental Health First Aid program saves lives, expands people’s knowledge of mental illnesses and their treatments, and reduces the stigma associated with mental illness by helping people understand and accept mental illness as a medical condition. One trial of 301 randomized participants found that those who took the training had greater confidence in providing help to others, greater likelihood of advising people to seek professional help, and decreased stigmatizing attitudes.
The study also found that Mental Health First Aid improved the mental health of the participants themselves.
“By understanding the signs and symptoms of depression, I learned to recognize this in myself,” says Kellie-Ann Heenan, director of human resources at Lighthouse Computer Services, Inc. in Lincoln, RI.
Heenan, who had the training in February, has an adopted son from Russia who suffers from a number of emotional issues.
“The tools I acquired made it easier to connect with him and better understand where he’s coming from,” she says. “In the end, the training improved my own mental health.”
More than 6,000 people in the U.S. have been certified in Mental Health First Aid since the training was brought here from Australia. The program is managed, operated, and disseminated by three national authorities—the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare (National Council), the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Missouri Department of Mental Health.
“I’ve already used what I learned through Mental Health First Aid on three different occasions,” says Lynn Corwin, assistant vice president and director of human resources for United Way of Rhode Island. “Mental health issues impact employees in many different ways and sometimes the HR professional is the one who notices a person may be in trouble.”
By the year 2020, the National Council expects that Mental Health First Aid will be as well known as CPR and First Aid.
“Mental illness may not be the most popular water-cooler topic because of the stigma around it, but there’s a real hunger out there for reliable information,” says Linda Rosenberg, the National Council’s president and CEO. “Mental Health First Aid makes it OK to talk about mental health issues, much of the course focuses on teaching people that mental illnesses are real, common and treatable.”
Of nearly 1,000 participants in a Mental Health First Aid-based webcast offered by the National Council in May 2010, more than 60 percent said they were concerned about a friend, colleague, family member or themselves being depressed.
“Mental Health First Aid left me with a greater sense of confidence about how to deal with a variety of people issues that come up in every office,” concludes Heenan. “There’s such a stigma around mental health and people don’t want to talk about it, so having the information gives me confidence that I’ll be able to handle these types of situations when they arise.”