It will be common knowledge to employers that they have a duty to provide the appropriate equipment, facilities and suitably trained personnel, to ensure that all employees receive immediate attention if they are injured, or if they fall ill whilst at work, in the form of accredited first aiders. Whilst this is a long-accepted workplace norm as far as physical health is concerned, it does not cover mental health issues. This seems strange when you look at the statistics surrounding the impact of mental health issues in the workplace.
2016 data from the Office for National Statistics showed that 15.8 million working days were lost for mental health related reasons, which accounted for 11.5% of sickness absence experienced by UK employers. Further research suggests that the cost of such absence to the UK economy is around £8.4 billion each year, plus another £15.1 billion in reduced productivity. Replacing staff that leave work because of poor mental health costs an additional £2.4 billion.
These figures make it clear that paying attention to the mental health of employees and offering support where possible makes commercial sense.
Mental health first aider legislation
In fact, this may not remain optional for much longer as the Government is being petitioned by mental health campaigners to introduce a change in legislation that obliges employers to introduce dedicated Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs). This campaign is based on the fact that one in four people will struggle with their mental health each year, and at present, most workplaces do not have anyone who is responsible for offering help and support.
So what does a mental health first aider do?
This could include a range of actions from simply asking how someone is and genuinely listening to them, assisting them to reorganise and plan their working day with certain coping strategies, or suggesting a desk move to somewhere less intense perhaps. There may of course be some issues that are more serious than this, and MHFAs would be trained to deal with common problems like stress, anxiety or depression, through to more urgent situations like psychosis or even suicidal thoughts.
The training received will equip MHFAs with the skills and confidence to recognise common mental health issues and it is hoped that this will encourage workers to have vital conversations at an early stage. The training will include guidance on ‘non-judgemental listening’, how to ask open questions to assess the individual’s needs and where to signpost colleagues to the relevant professional help.
Due to confidentiality issues, it will be impossible to know exactly how many people have been supported by MHFAs. However, since launching in 2009, Mental Health First Aid England has trained and equipped 235,000 adults in England, and is aiming to train one in every ten people in the country.
Garry Humphreys, HR Consultant at EML, comments:
“Mental health is something that affects everyone, whether they realise it or not, and with these developments it would appear to be only a matter of time before employers are required to make provision for this by treating it with the same importance as physical health and injury. Further evidence of this can be found in the Government’s decision to mark World Mental Health Day by appointing Jackie Doyle-Price, as its first ever Suicide Prevention Minister, her aim being to tackle the stigma surrounding suicide.”
Should you wish to discuss any aspect of mental health within your organisation, do not hesitate to contact us on 01942 727 200.