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Tell staff 'WHY' you're launching mental health first aid

Build it and they ‘might not’ come

One of the most recent studies into the usage of EAP’s (Employee Assistance Programmes) was done by TWF (The Work Foundation) and stated that average usage within organisations is 5%. That is, 5% of the workforce access them.

Now, you’d think with such a great number of services available under most EAP’s staff would be chomping at the bit to use them. But, there are many reasons why employees may choose not to use them, ranging from trust, or thinking they’re just for mental health, to poor comm's and preference for other solutions.

Occupational health scepticism

Although Occupational Health professionals follow a professional code regarding confidentiality many people still feel their records will be divulged to their employer. This prevents many people from seeking the use of their Occupational Health team.

When it comes to an employee’s mental health, before sharing, most will need to trust the service and feel they have an understanding of what will happen with the information before they do so.

For you or them?

When setting up a mental health first aid project it might be blindingly obvious to you that you’re setting this up for the good of your employees, but they might not automatically see it that way. Recall the 5% average uptake for EAP’s

The true intentions behind the project need to be clearly communicated to your workforce if you want them to believe in it as you do. In my experience, there are some commonly held employee beliefs as to the motives of the leadership introducing mental health first aid:

· Box-ticking

· Want to reduce insurance premiums

· Public image

· Shiny object syndrome

· Need to be seen to be doing something

· A way of avoiding making organisational changes (less workload)

· License to add more pressure on staff

A missed opportunity

If any of the following beliefs are allowed to fester unchallenged, they might become the dominant explanation in many employees minds as to why you’re introducing mental health first aid. Once they take root it’ll be a tough PR job to uproot them.

What should we do then?

We can’t expect people to automatically know our intentions, they have to be communicated effectively. A failure to do this will result in people filling those knowledge gaps themselves. To overcome this, a simple message from the most senior levels in the organisation is key.

Get on the mic

A public address to your workforce explaining your reasons for wanting to introduce mental health first aid is your opportunity to fill any knowledge gaps before gossip and speculation fill them first.

A powerful spoken message delivered with conviction can work wonders, as it gives you the chance to hit emotional buttons as well as the rational. And it goes without saying that the more senior the person/people delivering the message the more powerful.

Things to include

This communication has to hit home, so planning is essential. If you get it wrong first time you might not get a second, so please don't wing it. Here are some key ingredients:

· Anecdote/story as to why you feel it’s important

· How it will work

· Long term vision for it

No need to waffle

Less is more when it comes to announcements. Do you know who Edward Everett is? No, neither do most people. But I’m sure you know the name, Abraham Lincoln and have heard of his famous Gettysburg Address? Well, Edward Everett was actually the speaker before Lincoln, at the Gettysburg Address. He spoke for two hours, but most people haven’t heard of him.

Lincoln got to the point and spoke to the heart. His talk was less than two minutes long and contained just 275 words.

The 'WHY' is the key

So, when it comes to getting the message out around your mental health first aid project remember that some staff may suspect box-ticking, shiny object syndrome, public image promotion, a way to reduce insurance premiums or add more pressure on employees etc…

A brief, well communicated message that fills knowledge gaps by telling them why you’re doing it, what it involves, how it will make their lives better, and your long-term vision for it will help overcome any of the type or barriers EAP’s experience and boost its usership as much as possible in situations it can be helpful.

Do a Lincoln

Taking the Lincoln ‘less is more’ approach will result in a more concise and memorable message that hits home, and helps staff associate mental health struggles with seeking out support via your mental health first aiders.

Once created, this video message can be the foundation of your mental health first aid campaign launch, then reside on your wellbeing portal where its easily accessible, has a permanent home, and can be shared to constantly reinforce your big WHY...


Jonathan Pittam

Mental Health Educator


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