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Safe, healthy workplaces put mental health front and centre

Health and Safety at Work/10 October 2017

Poppy Jaman, chief executive of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, on the latest research on mental health in the workplace, how her organisation can help, and its new Workplace Wellbeing Toolkit.

Each year, around 10 million adults in the UK will experience mental ill health, meaning one in four of us will experience a mental health issue at some point in our lifetime. Over the past decade, awareness of mental health has accelerated, and more and more employers now understand that supporting wellbeing and mental health is a core part of a comprehensive approach to health and safety.

With “workplace” as the theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day, this offers employers a valuable opportunity to address how mental health is approached in their organisations. Last week, we partnered with Business in the Community and others to launch the Mental Health at Work Report 2017, which reveals that three out of every five (60%) employees have experienced mental health issues, where work was a related factor.

While it’s evident that attitudes towards mental health in the workplace are shifting, this report demonstrates that employers are still failing to translate increased awareness into action. Worryingly, the figures reveal as many as 1.2 million people have faced disciplinary action, demotion or dismissal, after disclosing a mental health issue at work. That’s 15% of the working population and a troubling rise of 6%, when compared with the findings in last year’s report.

Whether your business is big or small, it is clear that having support available in the workplace is paramount. The report suggests that only 11% of people currently feel able to disclose a mental health issue to their line manager so awareness, and talking openly about mental health, is a great first step in creating a mentally healthy organisation.

However, to better support employees, transform practices and truly embed a “whole organisational” approach to workplace wellbeing, employers should consider the offer of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training.

To date, over 206,000 people in England have gained Mental Health First Aid skills. Enlightened employers – from the construction industry through to the financial sector – are training staff to support the mental and emotional wellbeing of their teams by becoming Mental Health First Aiders. This means there are members of staff trained in how to recognise the symptoms of common mental health issues and can effectively guide people towards the right support.

“We want businesses to maintain this momentum by continuing to disseminate skills and awareness – through training employees as in-house Mental Health First Aid Instructors, running webinars or creating a peer support network amongst other options.”

Construction company Bowmer and Kirkland has started a programme of training focusing on mental wellbeing, which supervisory staff will be required to attend. As Mark Blundy, group health and safety director, explains: “Mental health issues affecting workers in construction are well publicised, if not well understood, by our workforce. It is not just about extremes of stress or suicide, and life outside the workplace adds to the pressures of travelling and site work. We’ve found Mental Health First Aid England’s one-day course complements our established health and wellbeing strategy.”

Meanwhile at business consultancy EY, more than 700 people, including senior leaders, have been trained in the techniques. Maggie Stilwell, managing partner for talent in the UK and Ireland, commented: “We want to better equip our people to identify when a person is struggling at work, both physically and mentally, and help them to get the support they need.

“At EY we publish our psychological care pathways, run a Mental Health Buddy scheme, and host workshops and webcasts on physical and mental wellbeing. We also share the stories of our people, on how they manage their mental health, to help break down the stigma often attached.

“We want to nurture a working environment where physical and mental health are regarded and treated equally, and people are not afraid to talk about their psychological wellbeing. To that end, what has been particularly impactful is our senior leaders sharing their own vulnerabilities and mental health experiences, helping to position mental and physical health as topics we can all talk and learn about.”

For this year’s World Mental Health Day, our organisation has launched a Workplace Wellbeing Toolkit which illustrates a strategic step by step process to achieving this “whole organisational approach”. This includes advice on how to lay the groundwork for providing an open environment to talk about mental health in the workplace – providing tips and guidance on how to start a meaningful conversation with a colleague about mental health. Following this, we encourage employers to empower their staff to support each other, either through quality mental health training or other available resources.

Finally, we want businesses to maintain this momentum by continuing to disseminate skills and awareness – through training employees as in-house Mental Health First Aid Instructors, running webinars or creating a peer support network amongst other options.

This World Mental Health Day, we urge employers of all shapes and sizes to act now and take a proactive step towards creating a mentally healthy organisation.


News Source: Health and Safety at Work

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