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Why Mental Health First Aiders need clinical supervision

Clinical supervision for practitioners working within mental health or in the helping professions is a well-known concept. Mental Health First-Aiders (MHFA) provide a workplace based mental health support and guidance, often alongside their normal roles in an organisation. I am curious as to how many receive ongoing clinical, professional support for this specific role.

In my experience, MHFA’s provide a useful segway for staff members to seek further specialist and qualified support. Undertaking a MHFA role has the potential of being a rewarding extra responsibility for many workers. However, I am mindful that offering this does not come without a cost. Some may believe that MHFA’s will only be working with low-level workplace stress issues, I’m afraid this is rather naïve. As anyone working within mental health will know, there is often far more going on that meets the eye. I am aware of occasions where a member of staff has disclosed severe mental health issues to the MHFA that requires urgent attention. Engaging with helping this member of staff has taken its toll on the mental health first aider, an impact that they were not expecting, nor felt equip to manage.

The dual role in some organisations is not acknowledged. MHFA’s not only have their normal role but have the added dynamic of helping fellow colleagues with their mental health issue. To some extent having a dual role can present ethical dilemmas for the MHFA or impact on the workplace dynamic, as the MHFA can not unknow what they know about a co-worker.

Companies that have MHFA with no clinical support concern me. As a psychotherapist, an essential part of being able to do my role is enabled through the processing time I have in my own clinical supervision. I advocate for all MHFA’s to have clinical supervision in order to process the impact of engaging with staff who present with a mental health issue and also address issues around the dual role. Simply put, it is not enough to offer in-house mental health first aid without supporting those that provide it.

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