VIEWPOINT WILLIAM STADLER
WHY MORE EMPLOYERS SHOULD PROVIDE ‘MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID’
Educating workers about mental illness is good for your company’s health.
By William Stadler
Everyone knows that first-aid training saves lives—which is why it’s a common component of many companies’ wellness efforts. Yet few organizational leaders choose to educate their workforces about mental illness, a set of conditions that cause
more lost workdays and impairment than arthritis, asthma, back pain, diabetes, high blood
pressure and heart disease.
It’s not because
managed in the
average, 1 in 5
U.S. adults will
in their life-
times. Of those,
two-thirds won’t receive treatment,
according to the National Institute of
Mental Health (NIMH). Among full-
time workers, 1 in 10 will be afected
by substance abuse, which often
occurs in conjunction with a mental
It’s also not because these conditions don’t afect companies’ bottom
lines—they do, signifcantly. Employee mental health and substance
abuse issues cost U.S. employers between $80 billion and $100 billion a
year, according to NIMH. Moreover,
workers experiencing unresolved depression are estimated to encounter a
35 percent drop in their productivity,
according to the National Alliance on
Mental Illness (NAMI).
Could the lack of employer-provided
WHAT IT IS
education be because mental illness
is unlikely to result in an emergen-
cy? That’s also not the case. NAMI
Given these striking statistics, it’s
clear that employers are making a
mistake if they ignore the psycholog-
ical well-being of their employees.
Ofering your workforce frst-aid
training on mental health can be an
excellent way to help your employees
better understand and address men-
tal illness—which will also improve
your company’s health.
To start, it’s important to know what
a frst-aid program for mental health
is not. It doesn’t teach people to
make diagnoses or encourage them
to self-disclose their own mental
illnesses, nor does it take a position
about the appropriate use of the
Americans with Disabilities Act or
medical leaves of absence for individuals with any specifc conditions.
What it does do is help allay
employees’ fear and hesitation about
starting conversations with others
about mental health and substance
abuse. The frst such program was
created by a nurse and professor in
Australia in 2001, and other pro-
grams have emerged since then. A
typical course shows employees how
to recognize the signs of a problem
and gives them the tools and vocabu-
lary to help.
First-aid training for physical
conditions uses easy-to-remember
acronyms such as ABC (airway,
breathing, circulation) to reinforce
key lessons. Similarly, the mental
health training my company adopted—which is called Mental Health
First Aid—is structured around a
mnemonic device: ALGEE. When
workers recognize telltale signs of a
mental health problem or emergency,
such as erratic behavior or a sudden
shift in personality or appearance,
they are taught to:
�;Assess for risk of suicide or harm.
�;Give reassurance and information.
�;Encourage appropriate professional help.
�;Encourage self-help and other
The goal is to give participants the
knowledge, resources and takeaways
they need to feel empowered to act.
My company, Cerner Corp., launched
a pilot program on mental health education for our employees in 2017. So
far, more than 200 individuals have
been trained in our Kansas City, Mo.,
William Stadler is director, behavioral health, at
Cerner Corp., a health
solutions provider based in
Kansas City, Mo.