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MHFA - What is mental health first aid?

You may have seen that we offer hospitality focussed MHFA training, but you might not be familiar with what it is or how it can benefit your teams wellbeing. Enter Jemma, our

awesome resident Mental Health First Aid Instructor. She talks to us about her role, why MHFA is important in hospitality and the benefits it can bring to a business.

Tell us about your role at The Burnt Chef Project...

Within The Burnt Chef Project I am both the resident MHFA instructor, and also one of the

trainers helping the project role out their ‘Mental Health Awareness and Cultural Change for

Managers’ training to different organisations. I have also more recently have been involved

in the creation of educational modules for the training academy.

Within my role as an MHFA England Instructor I deliver the full 2-day Mental Health First Aid

courses, MHFA England’s One Day Mental Health Champion course and the Half Day

Mental Health Awareness courses. These are all made bespoke to the hospitality industry

using hospitality specific case studies and relevant, directed conversation.

These courses all have the capacity to be run online or in person, but during my time with

TBCP they have been taught online. I really enjoy the online environment as it creates a

fantastic opportunity to connect individuals across the country to talk about mental health,

those who wouldn’t usually meet otherwise.

What is MHFA?

Mental Health First Aid is a training course that teaches people how to identify, understand

and help someone who may be experiencing a mental health issue. The course doesn’t teach someone how to be a therapist or counsellor, how to diagnose mental health conditions or to provide that ongoing support. Instead, it teaches someone how to recognise the warning signs of mental ill health, develops the skills and confidence to approach and support someone, educates them on how to listen effectively, reassure and respond (even in a crisis),.and teaches them how to empower someone to access the support they may need for recovery and successful management of their symptoms. Importantly, it also teaches people how to take care of their own health and wellbeing, which is essential as an MHFA.

How did you get involved in MHFA and why?

A huge reason behind my passion for MHFA and mental health awareness in general is my

own personal experiences of mental ill health. I’ve faced challenges with my own mental

health and have so much thanks and appreciation for MHFA’s and the job they do, as it was

an MHFA that was able to recognise my struggle and connect me to the support I needed.

Once I felt able to do so, I wanted nothing more than to be able to provide that support to

others, so hopped on the first opportunity I could get the qualification that would give me the

skills to do so. At the time I worked within the health and wellbeing department of an

occupational health provider and recognised very quickly how vital MHFA’s are within

businesses and in supporting employees.

This led to me gain my instructor member status with MHFA England, and I haven’t look back since doing the course. To teach and educate individuals so passionate about helping others is incredibly rewarding, and there’s nothing better than giving them the skills to do so in the most effective way possible.

Why is MHFA so vital to hospitality industry? Why is it important for people in a team to be trained in MHFA? 

The hospitality industry is a high pressured, demanding and sometimes challenging industry

to work in. It can require working long hours, in sometimes difficult environments, which all

have the potential to increase someone’s risk of facing struggle with their mental health and

wellbeing. I often reflect on my time working within the industry, at my local village pub as I

navigated my way through my college and university years. I am eternally grateful for my

time in the industry as it gave me the skills, knowledge and confidence that allows me to do

the job I do today.

However, I do often think about where I would have gone at the time had I been struggling. We had no EAP, no mental health first aiders, no real conversation around mental health at all. Fortunately, I had support through college and university, but I had many friends in the industry who wouldn’t have had that option, who worked full time, and I’m not sure where they would’ve felt they could have gone, had they faced struggle. This is a big reason why I was so excited to work with The Burnt Chef Project in the first place when the opportunity arose, as I feel it’s an industry that’s in huge need of this support.

There is a whole wealth of support out there that exists, but often it’s the lack of awareness

of where to find it that stops people seeking help. Workers within the hospitality industry

need to know that support is there should they ever need it, and the introduction of MHFA’s

into a workforce can be a brilliant way to introduce and raise awareness of this. MHFA’s can notice if someone is struggling and take action to connect the person with the most

appropriate support possible.

They’re not counsellors or healthcare professionals, they’re empathetic and compassionate people who can be the bridge between someone struggling and someone receiving the support that they need.

In addition to this, it is an MHFA’s role to raises awareness of mental health issues in their

community, and to help reduce stigma and discrimination. The industry needs trained

individuals within businesses to create the conversation around mental health, so others feel

comfortable to do so too.

What are the different course types available?

There are 2 courses we currently offer from MHFA England and both are available via The Burnt Chef Project with a specific hospitality focus:

Two Day Mental Health First Aid (as detailed above)

One Day Mental Health Champion

This is a condensed course and is almost ‘The Foundations of Mental Health First Aid’. It provides delegates with the vital skills and knowledge around spotting the signs, conversations and guiding someone towards support.

The focus is directed towards the main symptoms of the most common mental health

conditions and educates delegates on how to build a mentally healthy workplace. You can’t

call yourself an MHFA on completion of the course, but it creates a great base of knowledge

that will allow the delegate to raise awareness, provide basic support and help to foster a

mentally healthy workplace environment.

Who should be trained in this? Who is suited to which type of course? How many people in a team should I look to get trained on this?

This very much varies and depends on the structure of an organisation. For most

organisations it would be a reasonable goal to aim to train as many MHFA’s as there are

physical first aiders. A good aim I recommend striving for is to always have an MHFA on

shift, so you’ll need a variety of people trained to cover all days and shift patterns. This also

applies to multisite organisations – it’s important that there is an MHFA to support

employees at each location too.

Those who are trained should be a wide range of individuals and should represent the

diversity of the workforce (varying in different seniority levels, locations, genders, and ethnic

backgrounds). The individuals chosen should also be those who are keen to learn about

mental health and supporting others, who spend most of their working time with others, who

can be trusted to maintain confidentiality and who can commit to the time required for the


Laying the groundwork within an organisation is also essential. The only effective and

sustainable approach to employee wellbeing involves the whole organisation, and very much

starts at the top. Attitudes filter down from leaders, so having a senior leader MHFA and

general champion for mental health and wellbeing could be a very powerful way to break

down stigma and gain traction across an organisation. Senior leaders also have the ability to

review policy, procedure and adapt how the organisation can best nurture a supportive,

inclusive culture around mental health.

Once you’ve established this network of MHFA’s, you could then look to introduce Mental

Health Champions into the teams. The champions can support the MHFA with their role, in

any projects they’re working on within the team or business and can be an extra channel of

support for fellow colleagues. At the end of the day, the more people you have trained and

educated on mental health, the better. Training and education allows individuals to speak

about the topic louder with more confidence and increased understanding, which helps us

break down the stigma that exists, raises awareness and empowers others to do the same.

A big thing to remember is it’s not only managers that should be put forward for this training,

it should be people from various roles, levels, and experience. That being said, I certainly

encourage that all managers should receive some form of mental health training, so they

know how to appropriately support their team members.

A note on personal experience of mental ill health and becoming an MHFA…

Personal experience of mental ill health is not necessary for the role - it’s important for all,

but especially for those who have past/present experience, that the role and responsibilities

are clearly outlined and discussed. This allows them to make an informed decision on if this

is the right time for them to take on the role, taking their own health and wellbeing into

account. Personal experience can create a great degree of empathy in an MHFA, but it’s

important to consider and not underestimate the impact that supporting others can have on

our own wellbeing and how we feel.

What are the benefits to a business?

People are a business’s most important asset – if you look after your employees, they’ll look

after you, and therefore your customers. Creating and building a mentally healthy working

environment is fundamental to success within an organisation. MHFA’s will give employees

a point of contact when they are experiencing emotional distress and allow them to be

directed towards the most appropriate support at the earliest stage possible. We spend most

of our time at work, and therefore our colleagues get to know our character, way of working

and way of being. With trained individuals within teams who know how to spot the signs of

struggle, changes in those experiencing emotional distress will be recognised at an earlier

stage and will enable guidance towards early intervention and support, a key determinant in

enabling a faster recovery.

Looking at research specifically, the benefits of implementing mental health support within a

business greatly outweigh the cost of doing so. Data from 2020 showed that 17.9 million

working days were lost because of stress, anxiety and depression (Work Right). In the same

year, a study by Deloitte showed that there was £42-45 billion in lost revenue (£6.8bn costs

from absenteeism, £26-29bn costs from presenteeism, and £8.6bn cost from staff turnover).

In the same Deloitte (2020) study, they concluded that their analysis showed a complex but positive case for employers to invest in the mental health of their employees, with a return of £5 for every £1 spent. This spend could be investing in MHFA training, EAP services, Occupational Health professionals etc.

The introduction of MHFA’s can be a hugely important part of a companywide wellbeing

strategy – for example, Thames Water made it an integral part of their ‘Time to Talk’ mental

health strategy, which overall has resulted in a 75% reduction in referrals to their

Occupational Health team for work-related stress, anxiety and depression (MHFA England).

If you’re unsure on whether to invest in introducing MHFA’s into your business, I strongly

advise that you do – I only see benefit in doing so! I’ve seen first hand the benefit it can

provide to an organisation, and the vast difference in values, attitudes and company culture

when comparing those who do invest and those who choose not to.


To talk to us about booking your team onto an MHFA course, contact us

Don't just take our word for how awesome our team are... here's some of Jemma's recent feedback -

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