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Published: 2019-11-27T13:00:00Z

With research suggesting that nearly half of us will experience a mental health issue in our current job, it’s easy to see why the public, employers and mental health campaigners have been calling for mental health first aid to be given equal legislative status in the workplace.

Stress, anxiety and depression are the biggest cause of sickness absence in our society. Mental ill health is responsible for 91 million working days lost every year.

Mental ill health costs UK employers £34.9 billion each year. Healthy people are happier, more engaged and more productive. Employers across the UK are acting now to support the wellbeing of their people and create mentally healthy businesses.

Long hours, tight deadlines, uncertainty and change have all been associated with increased stresses and strains in the workplace. Whilst stress in and of itself isn’t a mental health condition, it can be a contributing factor. And it’s here, for example, that a Mental Health First Aider would be able to spot the signs and symptoms that might indicate someone is struggling with their mental health and offer a listening ear and a guiding hand to further places of support.

A campaign to ensure every workplace makes provision for mental health first aid, ‘Where’s Your Head At?’ was backed by over 200,000 members of the public, as well as 50 leading employers, who wrote to the Prime Minister November 2018 to express their support.

The campaign went to the House of Commons early 2019, with MPs from across the five largest parties supporting a preliminary motion to bring our outdated health and safety legislation up to speed. The campaign has begun its journey in Parliament. Setting a baseline for mental health support would make a huge difference to so many people’s lives.

In the wider policy context, bringing mental health first aid into every workplace has huge potential to help employers take forward the recommendations of the Government’s ‘Thriving at Work’ report. This report urged employers to subscribe to six core standards for a mentally health workplace which emphasise, among other things, a need to develop mental health awareness among employees and encourage open conversation about mental health and the support available.

Who can/ should attend a Mental Health First Aid course?

MHFA England recommend their courses for anyone. They are designed so you don’t need any existing knowledge of mental health (similarly with a first aid course of delegates not needing any medical background).

If attending to become a workplace Mental Health First Aider it is important to have people who are approachable and visible to staff so that if someone was struggling in the workplace or having a mental health crisis, they feel they could approach them. It may be that a mix of people from senior management to line managers to support staff so there are a range of people that employees can approach. It is good to engage senior management to get their buy-in and support to help to promote internally to staff you are supporting staff wellbeing and have support mechanisms in place.

Every organisation or workplace is different and depending on the structure and support you have in place for your employees, depends on who you send on the course. The key thing is to ensure that whoever becomes a Mental Health First Aider has the support from the wider organisation with processes in place to support them. Ensuring they are aware of what support is available internally to colleagues (i.e. occupational health, counselling services, etc.) and externally to colleagues i.e. ACAS, Mind Infoline, Rethink Mental Illness Advice Line, Samaritans, SANE Mental Health Helpline).

We would be happy to work with you to see on what options are best for you or, your workplace.

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