Mental Health First Aid: Better Identify, Understand, and Respond to Mental Health at Work

Mental Health First Aid can help businesses

Learn how Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is a tool health and safety professionals can use to better support the mental health of their employees.

Author: Dr. Heidi Roeber (MD, MPH)

May 5, 2023

A Message from Dr. Heidi

Mental health issues like anxiety and depression don’t only affect people in our personal lives. They also have a profound impact on the safety and health of millions of employees and colleagues every day.

This brings up an important question. What can you do to improve mental health at work?

Numerous tools are available, but in this blog, I want to introduce health and safety professionals to Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) as a tool to identify, understand, and respond to signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use disorders at work.

Poor Mental Health Is Costly

A recent Gallop poll reports nearly one-fifth of U.S. workers (19%) rate their mental health as fair or poor and report about four times more unplanned absences due to poor mental health than their counterparts who report good, very good, or excellent mental health. These same workers are estimated to have nearly 12 unplanned days of absence per year, (compared with 2.5 days for all others) costing the economy more than $47 billion annually in lost productivity.

In addition to negatively impacting productivity, mental health challenges impair engagement with work, quality of work, hinder communication, and increase the risk of workplace error and injury.

Mental Health First Aid – A Tool to Respond

Mental Health First Aid is a training program that gives people the skills to identify, understand, and respond to signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use disorders. MHFA was first offered in Australia in 2000 and has rapidly spread since. In the US, nearly 3 million responders have been trained to date. The one-day training is available to anyone aged 18+ and covers:

  • Common signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use challenges

  • How to navigate conversations with a person in crisis

  • How to connect a person with help

  • Principles of safety and privacy

Mental health is an important part of employee well-being

How MHFA Helps Businesses

Mental Health First Aid takes the fear and hesitation out of starting conversations about mental health and substance use problems through information, understanding, and providing an action plan to respond to an individual experiencing a potential mental illness or substance use disorder. As an important first step, it also helps to:

  • Reduce the stigma associated with issues of mental health

  • Increase the knowledge and confidence of the public about mental health

  • Encourage early intervention

  • Promote recovery from treatable conditions

  • Show workers the value placed by the employer on well-being

Just as first aid training is not intended to transform an engineer into a nurse, MHFA does not create therapists. Instead, MHFA provides tools that allow a trained responder to recognize, assess, and provide initial support until an issue is stabilized or a professional is available to treat the person.

The Impact MHFA Can Have

The growing body of research studying the impact of Mental Health First Aid has demonstrated that trained First-Aiders:

  • Have better knowledge of signs, symptoms, and risk factors of mental health and substance use challenges

  • Can identify multiple types of professional and self-help resources for individuals with a mental health or substance use challenge

  • Help reduce stigma and increase empathy toward individuals with mental health challenges

  • Have increased confidence and likelihood to help an individual in distress

  • Use the skills and information they learn in MHFA to manage their mental wellbeing

MHFA – Case Studies

Case studies implementing Mental Health First Aid training in a variety of workplace settings have demonstrated this. Of 166 Texas state employees responding to a post-training survey, 70% considered MHFA training extremely helpful or very helpful in enhancing their mental health knowledge. Seventy percent of respondents also reported they used the training in the previous six months.

If you are interested in additional case studies, the National Council for Mental Wellbeing has more available here.

Explore Using MHFA at Your Business

Mental health is an incredibly important part of overall health. By providing resources that create a safe, supportive work environment, workers can have the confidence to feel more comfortable opening up about issues related to mental health, leading to earlier diagnosis and treatment.

To learn more about first-aid training on mental health, or to register for a class, visit