• Jonathan Pittam

The power of a proactive approach to mental health first aid


The wise old saying goes, “A penny of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, and when it comes to mental health truer words were never spoken.


A lesson from the generals


In military world there’s a term known as a ‘pre-emptive strike’ which is an action taken in response to a potential threat. The purpose of the pre-emptive strike being to prevent the threat from ever happening.


When it comes to mental health we live in a time where most actions are taken on a reactive rather than proactive or pre-emptive basis. Essentially, we wait for something to go wrong then aim to fix it.


Eastern vs Western medicine


One of the most obvious differences between the Eastern and Western approaches to medicine is the fact that in the East the aim was always to maintain a healthy body in order to reduce the likelihood of a person becoming sick and needing further treatment. In the West we tend to ignore the first part and go straight to the ‘further treatment’ bit.


Mountains or molehills?


Once a problem has arisen by its very definition its already affecting the individual in a detrimental way. But most problems start somewhere and move along a scale of growth at various speeds. Logically the earlier we intervene the less time a problem has to grow in size.


The bigger a problem the more likely it is to lead to an employee being distracted at work, having to take time off work, or even end up leaving their job. Early intervention makes good sense at the relationship level as well as the business level.


Get proactive


Many of the organisations I work with take a proactive approach to mental health first aid. It might sound tricky but it’s actually very simple, especially when you have systems in place. And don’t forget any work done at a preventative helps reduce the work required at a reactive level.


When you have a culture of support in your organisation mental health first aid can be utilised to reach out to those potentially experiencing struggles during any of the following historical patterns in your business:

  • End of financial year

  • Christmas time (some may feel alone)

  • Changes within the business (eg: restructuring)

  • Redundancies

Around these periods your mental health first aid team can make outreach calls to those who may be struggling and just find out how they’re getting on. Sometimes just being thought of can be enough to lift us out of a difficult patch.


Look out for each other


If you use a ticketing request system for individuals to request contact from a mental health first aider why not let the rest of the business know they can also request an outreach call for a team member if they’ve noticed them struggling or any drastic changes. Most of us wouldn’t be offended by a call asking how we are.


Proactive power


So, have a think about how you could transform your mental health first aid operation into one that helps on a proactive rather than just reactive basis. Consider the historical patterns where support might be of use and put plans in place to offer support, and don’t forget to tell the workforce they can request support for others too.


It’s a win-win when we imagine the benefits of the additional experience for your mental health first aiders alongside the impact it could have on mental health related absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover.


Here’s a link to a research paper that looked into the benefits of proactive outreach calls to those in potential need. Just read the 'Abstract' section (3-minute read) and see what you think... >Read article here<



Jonathan Pittam

Mental Health Educator