If you’re a manager or administrator in an area like health care, law enforcement, human resources, or education, your team members are likely interacting with mentally ill individuals every day—even if they don’t always realize it.
Unfortunately, many people don’t know the signs of mental illness and aren’t sure how to respond when they encounter someone struggling with it.
Mental health training in the workplace teaches employees to recognize and understand common mental health conditions. This can be valuable for anyone, but it’s especially important for community-serving employees who frequently deal with individuals with mental health challenges in the course of their work. That includes healthcare providers, teachers, police officers, librarians, and HR professionals.
Keep reading to learn more about the importance of mental health training in the workplace and how it can benefit your team.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Why Mental Health Training is Important for Workplace Wellness
- Benefits of Mental Health Training in Public-Facing Industries
- Implementing Effective Mental Health Training
WHY MENTAL HEALTH TRAINING IS IMPORTANT FOR WORKPLACE WELLNESS
Mental health affects people’s work and is a key aspect of employee well-being. But despite widespread media campaigns to de-stigmatize mental health problems, ignorance, shame, and fear around these issues still run deep. That often prevents those affected from speaking up or seeking help.
And while mental health disorders may manifest as lower productivity, increased absenteeism, or greater workplace conflict, there may be no outward signs of distress. A person suffering from poor mental health can seem to be perfectly healthy.
Training programs that teach employees about common mental health conditions help with both stigma reduction and burnout prevention. They normalize mental health issues and help workers learn to recognize the signs of distress in themselves as well as others.
Increasing mental health awareness among your staff encourages them to talk more openly about these issues and seek support when needed. And creating a safe and healthy workplace environment ensures that every member of your team can perform at their best.
Erasing the stigma around mental health issues encourages employees to open up about their struggles
BENEFITS OF MENTAL HEALTH TRAINING IN PUBLIC-FACING INDUSTRIES
If your staff members regularly interact with people who present with challenging behaviours, mental health training can be an excellent way to boost their confidence and improve their job performance. Below are specific examples.
When someone seeks help for their mental health, they typically turn first to their family doctor or other primary care provider. In fact, data from both the U.S. and Australia show that mental health concerns are the most common issues GPs address in patients. But all too often, front-line medical professionals lack sufficient understanding of mental health conditions.
Most doctors and nurses receive a cursory introduction to issues of mental health as part of their education. But without targeted training, they are often unprepared to respond to patients who are contemplating suicide, for example.
Mental health training teaches strategies for these and other emergency situations, as well as techniques for handling cases where someone appears at risk for developing a mental illness.
Students learn about anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, impulse control disorders, psychotic and dissociative disorders, and more. The emphasis is on recognizing symptoms to correctly identify the disorder and developing techniques for safe and effective intervention or treatment.
Equipped with these skills, your team of healthcare professionals can feel more confident in their capacity to intervene in the right ways and at the right times.
According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, about 70 per cent of mental health problems begin during childhood and adolescence. An estimated 1.2 million children and youth in this country suffer from some form of mental illness, yet less than 20 per cent are properly diagnosed and treated.
What’s more, school closures and other fallouts from COVID sparked a huge rise in anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges among students. In a January 2023 survey, 20 per cent of young people in Quebec reported having poor mental health. That was double the pre-pandemic rate.
Because young people spend most of their time in school, teachers are uniquely positioned to observe behaviour changes, identify struggling students, and intervene when necessary.
However, a lack of understanding of mental health issues can cause troubled students to be mischaracterized as lazy or disruptive. Structured training helps teachers recognize the signs of an underlying problem so they can direct families to appropriate resources.
In addition, a key aspect of mental health training is confronting personal and societal biases toward those with mental health problems. When educators are provided with such training, it helps them in turn reduce the stigma around mental health, encourage open discussion, and foster a culture of resilience in their classrooms.
Teachers are often the first to notice signs of mental distress in students
Law Enforcement Personnel
Police officers are frequently the first responders in mental health emergencies. Unfortunately, those encounters don’t always end well.
Since 2000, more than 700 people in Canada have been killed in incidents involving police use of force. Case numbers have more than doubled since 2018. And more than two-thirds of those killed were suffering from mental illness and/or addiction.
While police officers are typically trained in crisis intervention, standard procedures for overcoming resistance might not be effective when dealing with people in mental health distress. For example, someone experiencing hallucinations may become aggressive in response to police commands to kneel or lie down.
Anticipating violence, police officers are more likely to respond with undue force, putting themselves, the individual, and members of the public at unnecessary risk.
It is natural to fear what we do not understand. Exaggerated use of force stems from that fear and is fed by a lack of mental health awareness.
However, when officers are alert to signs of mental illness, they can apply appropriate de-escalation techniques.
Police training has begun to focus more on this. However, formal mental health training can give law enforcement personnel a deeper understanding of mental health issues, particularly among specific demographics, such as youth and Indigenous people.
Public libraries have long served as community gathering places. And especially in large urban centres, library patrons increasingly include people struggling with addiction, homelessness, and mental health issues. Some patrons use the building as a place to sleep or just get warm, while others become disruptive or even abusive.
This can result in serious security concerns. In Saskatoon, for instance, two branches of the public library temporarily went to contactless delivery only after incidents of aggressive behaviour toward staff.
Some Canadian libraries are hiring social workers or mental health specialists to help. But in many cases, when patrons don’t follow the rules, librarians themselves are expected to step in. Some libraries train their staff members in basic conflict resolution, but that doesn’t do enough to address the problem of trying to help people with complex mental health needs.
Structured training can benefit these workers by giving them a better understanding of mental illness. This can help them become more empathetic so that they’re able to interact respectfully and provide effective service to all library visitors.
Human Resources Professionals
Human resources professionals play a key role in retaining talent, ensuring productivity, and maintaining good relations between workers and management. It’s their job to promote employee well-being by creating a supportive environment.
Yet the Society for Human Resource Management noted that only 38 per cent of HR professionals felt they did enough to support employees with mental health challenges in 2022. And a separate Canadian study found that seven in 10 employers did not give managers enough training to help them support employees’ mental health.
Effective support goes beyond common HR mental health initiatives like stress management programs and employee assistance programs. It’s important to foster a culture of openness so that all team members feel comfortable talking about their mental health struggles.
By gaining a deeper understanding of anxiety, mood disorders, and other common mental health conditions, HR professionals can approach their work from a different perspective and become more effective advocates for team members who may be suffering.
IMPLEMENTING EFFECTIVE MENTAL HEALTH TRAINING
Convinced of the value of mental health training for your staff? Here are your next steps.
Understanding the Needs and Challenges of Your Workplace
When implementing training, it’s important to think about the unique needs of your team. For instance, healthcare workers may be familiar with the basics of mental health disorders, but they might need more training to help them overcome the stigma associated with such conditions.
Developing a Comprehensive Program
Mental health training in the workplace should not only cover the basics of different conditions, but it should also help employees look closely at their own misconceptions and biases with regard to mental health issues. Employees should examine how those attitudes have impacted their work and influenced the ways they have approached people with mental health issues in the past.
The goal of any training program should be to increase mental health awareness and encourage open, compassionate communication.
EXPLORE MENTAL HEALTH TRAINING FOR YOUR TEAM
Many mental health training programs are directed at supervisors, since they are ultimately responsible for managing staff performance. However, a growing number of organizations are realizing the importance of training all employees to recognize and respond to mental health challenges among themselves and their co-workers.
Kompass Professional Development offers an online Community Mental Health and Addictions certificate aimed at front-line professionals. Training is delivered by highly experienced mental health specialists and can be tailored to help you meet your corporate training goals.
Click below for complete program details or to chat live with an advisor.