Mental Health First Aid


Mental Health First Aid

Agora #87

In case of mental illness, early intervention is key: the longer it is delayed the more difficult recovery can be.

1. What is mental illness?

Mental illness affects a person’s thinking, emotional state and behaviour. It disrupts the ability to work and to engage in meaningful relationships. 1 in 2 persons will experience mental illness in their lifetime and 1 in 5 in any given year will experience a diagnosable mental illness such as anxiety, depression or substance abuse. Many people do not seek any professional help. In case of mental illness, early intervention is key: the longer it is delayed the more difficult recovery can be.

2. Who is a Mental Health First Aider?

The Mental Health First Aider (MHFAider) is a facilitator whose role is to open the dialogue with the person in need. He/she is not a mental health professional  but is there to encourage and support the person without giving instructions on what to do. A MHFAider would know how to approach the person, how to provide useful contacts, and how to motivate him/her to seek help. The Commission has trained more than 100 members of staff from different DGs and Services to become MHFAiders and is going to train even more.

3. What does a MHFAider in practice?

The MHFAiderassesses what help is needed and assists him/her with any crisis. S/he has to listen very carefully to the person as well as communicate with the right words. The MHFAider provides support and information and encourages the appropriate professional help and other supports.

4. Why do you think mental health in the workplace is important?

Mental health is extremely important for the wellbeing of individuals. A person is a worker but also be many other things at the same time such as a mother, a brother, a husband, a child. People with mental illness may not be able to put words on the causes of their problems. It is difficult for them to realise that they need help and this can have an impact on their working life as well. Early detection of mental illness and accompanying measures for raising awareness on those suffering from it are essential for our organisation and should be reinforced and enhanced. That is why the initiative of the Commission to set up a MHFA network is to be applauded.

5. Why did you decide to become a Mental Health First Aider?

As a staff representative I am regularly in contact with colleagues suffering from stressful situations which might have consequences on their mental health. Most of the time I can offer support and advice. At times, the intervention of specialised services (Medical service, psychosocial service, psychologists, psychiatrists) is needed and I  re-direct the persons towards these services. I have of a number of tools at my disposal thanks to my previous training experiences (coaching, including systemic coaching, neuro-linguistic programming knowledge of the Staff Regulations and its implementing decisions). To become a Mental Health First Aider was an opportunity for me to develop further my skills  in support of staff.


6. What type of skills should a Mental Health First Aider have?

She/he should be able to listen, to express empathy while keeping enough distance from the person’s situation in order not to be emotionally involved. He/she should be aware that they are dealing with sensitive issues and remain as objective as possible. To reassure the person would be key at the preliminary stage. The MHFAider should not deviate from the final objective: to detect any symptoms of illness and to address the person to medical professionals.

7. What does confidentiality mean for a Mental Health First Aider and are there any occasions when it could be broken?

Staff issues are confidential by definition. However, there could be occasions for example when the safety of the person is at risk. In these cases the need for urgent preventive action can justify a breach of confidentiality.

8. What do you do to take care of your own mental health?

I try to channel my energy towards helping people, volunteering, through union activism and social engagement. I take care of my body and do physical activity regularly. I meditate as well, which I find very helpful. I enjoy the moment and what life brings.

Daniela Mormile

About The Author

Daniela Mormile is a member of the USB Executive Committee of the Commission. She is also an elected member of the Commission’s Central Staff Committee and Brussels Local Staff Committee. She wanted to share with us her recent experience of being trained as a Mental Health First Aider in the Commission.