More harm than good? New findings emerge on workplace mental health first aiders

Research shows that whilst peer support networks can be effective at improving employee wellbeing, some companies may be putting their mental health first aiders and champions at risk of ill health.

In an effort to tackle the increasing impact of mental ill health on productivity and future resilience, employers are training employees in peer-to-peer support skills.  The role of mental health first aiders and champions was already growing in popularity as a workplace intervention before the pandemic but has become even more conspicuous over the last 18 months, with neuroscientists predicting that Covid is having a “profound effect on mental ill-health.” Recent reports reveal that 50% of FTSE companies have first aiders and 83% of employers include mental health awareness in their wellbeing strategy. The government has also invested £15 million to train 1 million people in mental health first aid skills.  

In a related development, peer support networks have been found to have a positive impact on mental health and provide an effective environment for workers to share their experiences and engage in supported problem-solving. It was discovered that peer support led to significant positive impacts on measures of depression, anxiety and exhaustion. (The Wellcome Trust May 2021). However, this research also highlighted significant concerns in how peer support networks are implemented and the need for them to be part of a comprehensive mental health strategy. Primary concerns were around the importance of maintaining boundaries, ensuring confidentiality, the need for clear leadership support and dedicated resources (including for training and supervision).  

These findings echo research by wellbeing consultancy Ripple & Co earlier this year which found that on average 78% of those who volunteer for this role have their own experience of mental ill health, making them an effective support but vulnerable to being triggered. 89% of respondents said that time was a barrier to looking after their own wellbeing and 33% found it had negatively impacted their own wellbeing. For some companies this was as high as 54%.  

“Workplace mental health first aiders play a critical role in supporting employees but they themselves must be supported too if they are to tackle the expected ‘tsunami of mental ill health’ following the pandemic. Organisations who not only want to realise the full value of this peer-to-peer network must now support these volunteers with a tool that protects their wellbeing and empowers them to be effective in this important role,” said Eileen Donnelly, Ripple&Co Founder. 

Consequently, Ripple&Co has developed a solution to tackle the problem which will make peer support easily accessible to as many people as possible while assisting mental health first aiders to achieve the desired results. The solution is designed as a mobile app specifically for mental health first aiders, with a wide range of features, including resources, conversation journaling, signposting, supervision and a company-wide network to help users leverage peer support. 

PLATO is designed to support and empower mental health first aiders to be effective peer support and deliver the earliest possible intervention to help people on their road to recovery. Features of the app include a learning library, real-time data monitoring, first aider activity monitor, wellbeing footprint tool, and valuable insight. The solution is deservedly gaining a lot of traction, with support from Innovate UK Edge and the NatWest Entrepreneur Accelerator. 

For more information about PLATO and other solutions from Ripple&Co, visit - 

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