Mental Health First Aid is now slowly becoming a part of everyday life and thankfully it seems to be taking hold in the workplace. When you think of Mental Health First Aid, what springs to mind? Is it helping or understanding someone’s mental health issues, offering advice, signposting people to the correct treatment?

Employers have a duty of care to ensure employees are kept safe in both mind and body so, what does this mean?

We always tend to associate health and safety at work with physical safety for example not getting injured at work. We seldom think about a person’s mental well-being and the negative effect this could have on them at home and in a working environment. So, what can we do for an employee who could possibly be suffering from poor mental health/ illness and how do we spot the signs?

ACAS published guidance on promoting positive mental health in the workplace in June this year, which sets out five key areas for employers to consider. The first of these being our understanding of mental health, its causes, and the employers legal obligations to the employee.

The second is trying to get commitment from the top to the bottom of an organisation. Paying particular attention to the decision makers at the top, in not just awareness of mental health at work but also developing procedures to deal with mental health issues within the work place.

The third key area is how to tackle work related causes of mental ill health and what can be done to overcome the problems faced by all staff in every role. However, a key component of tackling work related mental health has to start with having a good understanding of how mental health can be affected by pressured work environments, target based and KPI loaded job roles.

This brings us into key area number four and probably one of the most important. The ACAS guidelines state that we should train managers to deal with mental health and give them help and advice on how to spot the signs of mental ill health in the workplace. This should focus on how to change attitudes to mental health and the stigma surrounding it, understand the common types of mental illness such as depression, anxiety, self harming and self medication to name but a few. A vital skill for every manager is being able to listen and show empathy for the person dealing with a mental health illness in the workplace. All too often, this taboo subject is side stepped due to work place demands; although listening to someone can have a huge effect on their wellbeing and also the perception of the company to perspective employees. (News about poorly treated staff travels quickly in all industry sectors).

Key area five asks employers to find out where they can go for further support and information regarding Mental Health First Aid and mental illness in the workplace for both themselves and employees. There are a massive amount of resources and support available for managers and other staff in the workplace in the form of established organisations such as MIND, NHS and the HSE.

Another excellent source of information on the subject of mental health in the workplace is Thriving at Work, a review commissioned by the government in 2017 to look into how employers can better support all individuals in employment; with particular emphasis on those with mental health conditions and poor mental health.

This review carried out by Farmer and Stevenson not only revealed the extent of poor mental health in the workplace, it also highlighted a need for all organisations to equip themselves to deal with mental health caused or exacerbated by work.

The review found that mental health is one of the greatest causes of sickness absence in the UK with a cost to employers estimated to be between 33 billion and 42 billion per year; an estimated cost to the UK economy of between 74 billion and 99 billion GBP.

These are staggering figures and given the fact the report states that only 24% of managers have received some form of training on mental health in the workplace, it makes for scary reading.

The cost to industry is secondary and the primary concern is always for the employee, thankfully Farmer and Stevenson recognise this and have introduced the Mental Health Core Standards which consist of the following:

  1. Produce, implement and communicate a mental health plan
  2. Develop mental health awareness among employees
  3. Encourage open conversation about mental health in the workplace
  4. Provide employees with good working conditions
  5. Promote effective people management
  6. Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing

These core standards are further enhanced for organisations employing 500 or more people and are as listed and are in addition to the 6 core standards:

  1. Increase transparency and accountability through internal and external reporting
  2. Demonstrate accountability
  3. Improve the disclosure process
  4. Ensure provision of tailored in-house mental health support and signposting to clinical health

Poor mental health can often lead to mental ill health which can manifest in many ways, some of which we touched on earlier in the blog however, by spotting the signs early coupled with empathy, good listening skills and knowing how to point the person in the right direction, you and your staff could play a huge role in making your workplace an even better place to work

Before I finish, please take the time to ask yourself the following questions:

Do you have a plan in place to deal with mental health issues in the workplace?
Do your staff have the correct skills to deal with mental health, poor mental health and related mental health issues including mental health first aiders?
How does poor mental health affect productivity within your workplace?

Finally, I hope this blog has been at the very least thought provoking and informative and if you feel it would help others then please feel free to share. To find out more please do get in touch, we’ll do our best to answer your questions.