You may have heard of mental health first aid already – it’s being introduced to more and more workplaces across the UK and has been written about in several high-profile publications. There are good reasons for this.
Awareness of mental health problems has been growing in recent years, as has the scale of the challenges we face from them as a society. Mental health care from the NHS is being stretched to breaking point after years of austerity, while six times more young people reportedly suffer from mental health conditions today than in 1995. Whatever the reasons for this, it is clear that many of us will struggle with a mental health problem at some time in our lives. In fact, it’s thought that each year, 1 in 4 UK adults experiences one. A recent survey suggested that a massive 48% of British workers have experienced a mental health problem at one point in their current job. However, two-thirds of us feel like we have no-one to talk to about mental health.
Employers have a legal duty to care for their employees, making sure their work is as safe as possible: both in terms of preventing accidents and avoiding work-related health problems, and in providing sufficient first aid for any injuries that do take place. The law doesn’t stipulate that employers have to care for their employee’s mental health, however – despite the fact that many mental health problems can be caused by, or aggravated by, work; heavy workloads, for example, can cause stress and anxiety which can in turn cause insomnia (harming physical health) and damage personal relationships. And just like physical health conditions, poor mental health can cost lives: suicide is the leading cause of death for males under the age of 45, accounting for 5,965 deaths in 2016.
Although mental health problems can be just as debilitating, or even life-threatening, as physical health conditions, the level of acceptance and understanding throughout society is much poorer. The same study that revealed 48% of workers have suffered a mental health problem in their current employment also revealed half of those workers hadn’t revealed it to their employers. There are some good reasons for this. There is still stigma attached to mental health problems and employees worry that disclosing their condition may harm their chances of promotion or even put their job in jeopardy.
Furthermore, there is also markedly less understanding and sympathy across the board when an employee takes sick leave for their mental health. One survey showed 42% of staff calling in sick due to mental health pretended to have a physical health problem instead, while 25% believed they wouldn’t be taken seriously if they told their employer they were suffering a mental health problem. Around two-thirds of respondents felt their colleagues had a negative perception of mental health issues while 88% who suffered one said their job was either the primary cause or a contributing factor to their illness.
Additionally, many employees feel, rightly or wrongly, that there is a lack of support available in the workplace to help them cope with their problem. A study showed 86% of working adults believe companies don’t do enough to support them with work-related mental health issues. However, the workplace is in a great position to offer support – we spend a large amount of our waking hours at work and many of us spend more time around our colleagues each week than friends or loved ones.
What is mental health first aid and how can it help?
Although businesses aren’t expected to have professional phycologists in their employ, there are steps that businesses can take to increase support for their workforce. Having key staff, particularly line managers, attend a mental health first aider course is a great way to do this.
The purpose of mental health first aid training is to equip staff with the knowledge and skills to spot and assist those in distress in an appropriate manner. The course aims to challenge and reduce the stigma around mental health, educate staff about common mental health conditions and how to spot symptoms, provide tips for looking after your own mental health, and give people the confidence to constructively engage someone who is in difficulty and the knowledge to guide them to the right support. The training also teaches you to diffuse a crisis, helping prevent someone harm themselves or others. Just as first aid training doesn’t make you a doctor, the aim of mental health first aid training isn’t to teach people how to be a therapist, but to offer crucial support, advice, and emergency intervention if needed.
Why is mental health first aid worth the investment?
According to the Centre for Mental Health, mental health issues cost UK employers around £35bn each year in reduced productivity, sickness leave and staff turnover, while other research suggests around 300,000 people with longstanding mental health conditions exit the workforce each year. Figures from the HSE show that in 2016/17, 40% of cases of work-related ill health were due to stress, depression or anxiety, affecting over half a million workers, while these three mental health conditions accounted for 49% of all working days lost to ill health – around 12.6 million. This excludes other less common mental health conditions.
With the right help, it’s perfectly possible for most people to continue to function as a productive and valuable part of the workforce while experiencing mental health problems, whether they be short-term or part of a longer-term condition. However, a lack of understanding or support, aggravating factors like heavy workloads and poor workplace culture, or even worse, discrimination, can lower productivity, increase absenteeism or force the employee to quit altogether. In the worst case, if an employee can demonstrate they’ve been discriminated against or constructively dismissed, a lawsuit can follow.
We believe that implementing a mental health policy to support employees – of which mental health first aid is a key component – could save employers across the UK at least £10bn a year. This saving is through reducing absenteeism, improving productivity and increasing the retention of skilled employees.
We have the option to attend a 2 day Mental Health First Aiders Course from just £275 per person, or you can choose a 1 day Mental Health First Aid Champions Course from £160 per person. Click the links to find out more about our courses.