World Mental Health Day is a good opportunity for government and business to finally take this issue as seriously as physical health
e all have mental health, just as we all have physical health, and in both cases we are on a continuum, where our health can vary day to day. It is estimated that one in four people experience a mental health issue in any given year, and that one in six employees is depressed, anxious or suffering from stress-related problems at any time. However, many of us know little about mental health. We often don’t spot the signs that a colleague, employee, or we ourselves are struggling, and this delays help and recovery.
Last week Business in the Community (BiTC)released the most comprehensive report of its kind, called Mental Health at Work. Worryingly, the report uncovered the fact that over three-quarters of employees have experienced poor mental health, and almost half of workers would not talk to their manager about a mental health issue. And while employers are talking more about it, words are not translating into action.
There is a disconnect between the ideals of company bosses and the reality of employees when it comes to mental health. Most board members believe their organisation is supportive on the issue, but 56% of people who have disclosed a mental health issue at work said their employer took no mitigating actions, found BiTC. How can we close this gap between perception and reality? A vital and practical step employers can take, and a key recommendation of the BiTC report, is investment in first-aid training in mental health for staff.
Mental health first-aid is the mental health equivalent of a physical first-aid course. It teaches people the skills and confidence to recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues, listen empathetically and effectively guide a person towards the right support.
Recently, I became a mental health first-aider myself, and now have the tools to start a meaningful conversation on the issue, something most of us would struggle to do. Could you think of the right words to say to someone who may be feeling suicidal? Having experienced loss in my family the training allowed me to reflect on what I might have done differently.
We spend a considerable amount of our lives at work and with more of us working longer hours, under more pressure, having mental health first-aid support in the workplace is critical not just for employees, but for businesses too. As it stands, mental health issues (stress, depression or anxiety) account for almost 70m days off sick per year, the most of any health condition.
Today, on World Mental Health Day, with support from Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England and Mind, I am calling on the government to act and bring parity to mental and physical health in the workplace. I’m submitting anearly day motion on the issue as the first step towards amending the current legislation, which requires employers to train staff in physical first aid, to in future include mental health first aid.
How can we possibly justify leaving the law as it is? So far as the NHS is concerned the government has committed to the principle of “parity of esteem” between physical and mental illness. Surely they must apply the same logic to the workplace.
Put simply, this is a call for every workplace to have trained mental health first-aiders just like they have physical first-aiders. A number of employers are taking action. WHSmith has committed to match the number of staff that are physical first-aiders with mental health first-aiders over the next 12 months.
There’s a growing momentum for change, and hundreds more businesses across a range of sectors are implementing mental health training for staff from Unilever and Crossrail to Channel 4. Employers have a duty of care to their workforce, and with the scale of mental issues in this country much more needs to be done. The government must act now to ensure every employee has access to mental health support at work.