NHS licensed mental health course launched by Aberdeen First Aid School

Gwen Robertson and Russell Heron of Aberdeen First Aid School
Gwen Robertson and Russell Heron of Aberdeen First Aid School

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An Aberdeen firm has become the first in the north of Scotland to regularly offer the NHS Health Scotland licensed Mental Health First Aid course to directly tackle the stigma around the subject in the workplace.

With mental health increasingly under the spotlight, Aberdeen First Aid School (AFAS) is one of only a handful of training providers licensed by NHS Health Scotland to run the course.

Established in 1996, AFAS is led by an experienced team of registered nurses and offshore medics with a range of mental health expertise. The business has appointed Gwen Robertson – who brings 25 years’ experience working in mental health and has undergone the nationally-recognised NHS course – to deliver the training for north-east workers.

The issue of mental health has significance for the oil and gas industry given the increased pressures on staff and contractors throughout the downturn. It is hoped that attitude changes can reduce the number of stress-related absences, while boosting employee retention and morale.

The two-day course aims to equip delegates with the communication and listening skills needed to interact with colleagues, who may be struggling with mental health issues, and direct them towards relevant professional support.

Russell Heron, director at AFAS, said: “Given increased awareness around mental health issues in the workplace as well as wider society, this course is extremely timely, and we hope it will encourage people to speak more openly about mental health.

“The training aims to give delegates a fully-accredited qualification as well as the confidence to use the skills gained through the course in the real world. This can act as an important starting point to have that initial conversation with a colleague, at all levels of an organisation, point them in the direction of relevant health professionals and deal with the issue effectively.”

Both the UK and Scottish governments are currently reviewing the possible introduction of new legislation that would require an accredited mental health first aider in the workplace, much in the same way as physical first aid is treatedCurrently, this NHS course is the only course to be recognised and fully licensed in Scotland.

Gwen Robertson, mental health first aid instructor at AFAS, added: “I’m passionate about removing the stigma around mental health: it has too often been brushed under the carpet but, in the long-term, I would like to see it given equal weighting to physical first aid.

“People are usually well-intentioned but don’t always know how to approach these issues which can sometimes come across as a lack of care. This training helps people gain a different perspective around spotting some of the warning signs, such as erratic behaviour, and intervene before the situation escalates further.

“By providing an open forum, it gives a much more personal feel and will hopefully encourage individuals to come forward and openly discuss some of these issues in a judgement-free environment.”

Emily Taylor, programme delivery manager at Step Change in Safety – the member-led safety body for the UK oil and gas industry – says one of the biggest risks now recognised by the industry is refusing to respond to the mental health and wellbeing of the workforce.

She said: “We’re now seeing the UK oil and gas industry taking the mental health of its workers much more seriously, rather than focussing on purely physical risks. It is vitally important that companies invest in training and take part in courses which improve and enhance their abilities to identify and support workers who may be struggling with their mental health and wellbeing.

“Poor mental health can have a severe impact on companies and their employees, and we welcome any efforts to address mental health and make it a core value in the oil and gas industry.”

The first training course will take place on May 2-3 at AFAS’ Norton Centre premises on the city’s Poynernook Road. Due to demand, additional sessions for May and June have already been announced, with numbers capped at 20 delegates. On completion of the course, each delegate will receive a nationally-recognised NHS Scotland Mental Health First Aid certificate.


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