5 Principles of Providing Emotional First Aid at the Workplace

Follow these ‘emotional first aid’ principles to reach out to a distressed co-worker and sensitively guide him or her towards the appropriate channels for getting mental health support

5 Principles of Providing Emotional First Aid at the Workplace
Principles of Providing Emotional First Aid at the Workplace

Emotional first aid is also known as mental health first aid or psychological first aid. It refers to the help offered to a person who is on the verge of developing a mental health problem, experiencing a worsening of an existing mental health problem, or in a mental health crisis. Just like a physical wound is initially treated with first aid until appropriate professional help becomes available, emotional first aid is given to someone until they can obtain professional help or until the crisis gets resolved.

People who offer emotional first aid are typically either members of the person's social network (friends, family, colleagues, employers) or people who work in human services occupations (e.g., teachers, police officers, recruitment agents).

Emotional first aid can also be helpful during various crisis events both large-scale levels and individual levels. Large-scale events include natural disasters, war, terrorism, disease outbreaks, and large-scale displacement of people and communities. Individual events affect one or a few people, such as accidents, robbery, or assaults. These individuals experience physical, social, and emotional consequences and can be supported by providing emotional first aid.

Provide emotional first aid
Provide emotional first aid

Psychological (emotional) first aid programmes in the workplace provide systematic targeted interventions and support to those managing critical incident response processes or those who work alongside colleagues affected by a traumatic event. Training in psychological first aid in the workplace provides employees with an understanding of trauma's impact as well as the most effective strategies to help them recover, including ensuring their safety, providing emotional comfort and support, and providing practical advice and assistance to deal with their immediate needs.

All in all, emotional first aid is critical and results in better awareness and attitudes in the workplace. It also helps people living with mental distress to get the support they need.

Also read: What is Quality in Mental Healthcare?

There are 5 principles of giving emotional first aid at the workplace

Before being able to give emotional first aid, first aid givers need some basic knowledge about mental health problems so that they may be able to recognise that their fellow employees might be struggling.

The aid-giver mustn't ignore the symptoms they have noticed or assume that they will just go away. These five principles provide an action plan on how to help a fellow employee in a mental health crisis or developing mental health problems. The aid-giver must use good judgment about the order and the relevance of these principles and needs to be flexible and responsive to the employee they are helping. Listening and communicating non-judgementally is a must throughout the process.

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Principle 1: Making connections

Greet and introduce yourself
Greet and introduce yourself

There is no need to wait for an affected employee to approach you. It is okay for you to make the first move. A simple greeting by introducing yourself with your name (in case you don't know each other well) is usually sufficient. Or, if you have known the employee for some time then asking about generic wellbeing will be sufficient. This will help you make the connection personal. Make sure to pay attention to the person while they are talking to you. If the person is not comfortable connecting with you, accept that and let them know where they can reach out to you when they feel like connecting again.

Principle 2: Safety

After undergoing emotional distress or a crisis, some employees might be concerned about their safety or the safety of others around them. There can also be incidents where the employee might have unintentionally placed themselves in dangerous situations. It is important for the emotional health first aid-giver to assist the employee to feel safe and calm and, if necessary, to call for medical assistance. It is also important for the aid-giver to be aware of their surroundings, enter the place or a scenario only when they are sure that it is safe, and not risk themselves during emergencies.

Check out this article to Promote Safety in the Workplace

Principle 3: Being kind and compassionate

The best way to approach any situation or crisis is to be kind and compassionate. Everybody benefits from compassion and kindness. The act of simple gestures like handing someone a bottle of water or letting them know that the aid-giver is available to talk will establish a trusting and kind environment.

Even when employees have difficulty opening up, speaking in a calm voice can also help the person to remain calm. Also, pay attention to the employee’s cultural appropriateness by considering physical closeness, gestures, eye contact, and the language the first aider uses. Express patience and compassion, even if the employee is being difficult. If the aid-giver has said or done something inappropriate it’s always a good idea to accept that they shouldn’t have, and can apologise.

Also read: Improving Internal Communication at Workplace: A How-to Guide for Employers

Principle 4: Listening


Every individual reacts differently under stress. Some prefer to talk about it and some prefer to keep to themselves or only talk to people whom they know. It’s important for the aid-giver to not pry if another employee doesn’t wish to talk. With those who can open up and talk, the aid-giver needs to be attentive and listen carefully. Not being distracted or interfering with what they are talking about and just being there and not saying anything can be comforting to someone in distress. It’s also necessary to avoid getting too attached and bond with the distressed employee.  

Principle 5: Reassuring and coping

The individuals suffering due to the crisis or a disaster may lose hope and feel helpless. Hence, it is essential to reassure them that even though the present situation seems grim, it will improve soon. Providing them with accurate, positive information about the event can help. Emotional first aid givers will not be able to resolve the employee’s difficulties. Therefore helping the individual to reach out to professional help and assisting them with finding appropriate information will be a very crucial step.


Gore, A. (2015, February 26). 7 ways to practice emotional first aid |. TED Ideas. Retrieved March 28, 2022, from https://ideas.ted.com/7-ways-to-practice-emotional-first-aid/

MENtal health first aid in The wORkplace (MENTOR): A feasibility study. (n.d.). IOSH. Retrieved March 28, 2022, from https://iosh.com/health-and-safety-professionals/improve-your-knowledge/resources/mental-health-first-aid-in-the-workplace/Psychological First Aid. (n.d.). Psychological First Aid: Helping Others in Times of Stress. Retrieved March 28, 2022, from https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.papsy.org/resource/collection/8F65CE7F-36A3-4A2E-9AE8-1546D0092397/W07_-_Psychological_First_Aid_ILTParticipantGu.pdf

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