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Mental Health First Aid (MHFA)

What is Mental Health First Aid Canada

One in three Canadians will experience a mental health problem at some point in their life. The earlier a problem is detected and treated, the better the outcome. Mental Health First Aid Canada gives people the skills to provide that early help that is so important in recovery.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is the help provided to a person developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. Just as physical first aid is administered to an injured person before medical treatment can be obtained, MHFA is given until appropriate treatment is found or until the crisis is resolved.

The MHFA Canada program aims to improve mental health literacy, and provide the skills and knowledge to help people better manage potential or developing mental health problems in themselves, a family member, a friend or a colleague.

The program does not teach people how to be therapists. It does teach people how to:

  • Recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health problems.
  • Provide initial help.
  • Guide a person towards appropriate professional help.

MHFA aims to:

  • Preserve life where a person may be a danger to themselves or others.
  • Provide help to prevent the mental health problem from developing into a more serious state.
  • Promote the recovery of good mental health.
  • Provide comfort to a person experiencing a mental health problem.

In the Workplace

  • In a recent major Canadian study, 82% of responding organizations ranked mental health conditions in their top three causes of short term disability (72% for long-term).
  • 30%of all short and long term disability claims are due to mental health problems and illnesses. They account for 70% of the total cost due to prolonged leave of absence and cost of medication.
  • The average responding organization reported spending more than $10.5 million annually on absence claims.
  • In 2011, lost productivity due to absenteeism and presenteeism (present but less than fully productive at work) due to mental health problems and illnesses was approximately $6 Billion.
  • Companies lose 14% net annual profits to mental health absenteeism (up to 16 billion)
  • A company can expect to save up to $10,000 a year for each employee who receives immediate treatment.  This requires recognition of the problem.
  • There was a 700% increase in court awards for mental injury disability awards between 2003- 2008. Companies have been unable to prove due-diligence.


Many organizations assume that if sickness rates are low, employees are generally healthy.  This measurement can create a false positive because presenteeism may be high within the organization despite low absenteeism rates. Many absenteeism reduction measurements do not measure the increase in presenteeism that can accompany reduced absenteeism. Without measuring presenteeism, productivity can stay constant despite a reduction in absenteeism. Presenteeism affects a company risks:

  •  Poor customer service / sales
  • Poor productivity
  • Unhealthy workplace culture
  • Employee turnover
  • Increased HR Costs 

Part of Proactive Healthy Workplace Planning

Providing Mental Health First Aid to all levels of management, union stewards, Human Resource staff and health & safety committee members is a great start!  By giving these key stakeholders the evidence based tools to appropriately recognize signs and symptoms of a mental health problems, you can ensure that early diagnosis and treatment is acquired, directly effecting the outcome of the individual.  The sooner a person is well:

  • The sooner they can return to work
  • Drug Costs are minimized
  • Increases in productivity due to positive workplace culture
  • Decreases in costly staff turnover (16-20% of annual salary costs for replacement).

Further, in training Mental Health First Aid as part of a safe and healthy workplace, you are fulfilling a major component of the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.  While this standard is currently voluntary, legislation is expected. Additionally an organization can ensure operations are pursuant to the Employment Standards Act with regards to discrimination, and providing due diligence support Ontario Health and Safety Legislation.