Mental health charities and an MP have called on the government to act to bring parity to mental and physical first aid in the workplace.
The call, made by Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England and Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Norman Lamb MP to mark World Mental Health Day (October 10), comes as mounting evidence points to a dearth of mental health provision across the country.
Recently released findings from Business in the Community, in collaboration with MHFA England, Mind and others – which heard from more than 20,000 employees – showed that 77% of employees have experienced poor mental health.
And, while employers are talking more about mental health, it often does not translate into action: 60% of board members believe their organisation supports people with mental ill health, but 49% of employees would not talk to their manager about a mental health issue.
Key recommendations from the Business in the Community report direct employers to invest in first aid training in mental health to help tackle the issue – currently 1 in 300 people in England are trained mental health first aiders. This recommendation is echoed by large employers, including WHSmith and Unilever, which are supporting the call for mental health first aid to be recognised and adopted by more employers in the same way as physical first aid.
Meanwhile, a recent NHS Digital report on the prevalence of mental ill health in England revealed record numbers of adults in England experience mental health issues with 17% living with a common mental disorder.
The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is ‘psychological and mental health first aid for all’ with the aim of making mental health first aid a global priority on a par with physical first aid.
Poppy Jaman, CEO and co-founder of Mental Health First Aid said: “Our workplaces need to undergo a transformation. People are working increasing hours, with less resources, and under more pressure. Millions of employees feel unsupported and employers must act now to retain top talent and boost productivity.
“Better access to support is critical to improve outcomes for those living with a mental health issue. Support in the workplace plays a vital role for employees and the economy. Mental health issues (stress, depression or anxiety) account for almost 70 million days off sick per year, the most of any health condition.
“We will only make headway when employers value mental health as they do physical health. Mental Health First Aid is a key part of the solution which is why, on World Mental Health Day, we are calling on the government to amend current legislation that requires employers to train staff in physical first aid, to include mental health first aid.”
Lamb (pictured) – a mental health campaigner and trained Mental Health First Aider, is tabling an Early Day Motion to coincide with World Mental Health Day in the first step towards amending current health and safety legislation to in future include Mental Health First Aid.
“I have campaigned for years for mental health to be treated in exactly the same way as physical health,” he said. “Every organisation should have trained Mental Health First Aiders just like they have physical first aiders.
“Being trained in Mental Health First Aid encourages people to start talking about mental health and helps to reduce the stigma that unfortunately still surrounds the topic. Mental Health First Aid is a simple step anyone can take to help improve their understanding of mental health and help society as a whole.”
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, added: “Many of our local Minds are delivering mental health first aid training across the country and making a valuable difference to people’s lives. This World Mental Health Day is a powerful opportunity to raise awareness and we support the call for the government to act to give equality for mental health in the workplace with physical health.”
Stephen Clarke, CEO of WHSmith – which is matching the number of staff that are physical first aiders with mental health first aiders said: “At WHSmith, we are proud to have made a commitment to have as many Mental Health First Aiders as we have physical first aiders, and over the next 12 months all of our 1,100 line managers will receive Mental Health First Aid training.
“The current legislation, which relates to first aid provision in the workplace, doesn’t include mental health but perhaps this is what is needed to ensure that employers across all sectors adopt a similar approach. I believe that everyone should be trained in Mental Health First Aid just like they are trained in physical first aid.”
Marcus Hunt, European wellbeing manager at Unilever, added: “There’s been a welcome shift towards improving workplace mental health provision in recent years, but employee-focused research shows that there is still more work to be done. One reason for this is that maintaining our wellbeing is a continuous journey which often reveals unanticipated challenges and opportunities. Further to this, we need to view wellbeing holistically, this includes not only championing mental health but also physical health and our purpose. This holistic approach is reflected in the Unilever Wellbeing Strategy which is our four pillar, employee-support model covering the areas of, physical, emotional, mental health and purpose.
“We continue to see our employees actively using the support we provide. One of our resources is our Mental Health First Aid training for line managers. As a result of the training, we have seen a positive shift in the way managers approach and support the wellbeing of their staff, as they are able to address their concerns before they escalate. By listening and responding to the emotional needs of our employees, we are giving them a much better chance of fulfilling their true potential – this is not only good for them but also good for the company.
“We will continue to progress our work in this area and ensure mental health first aid is recognised and given equal importance as physical first aid. By doing so we hope to break the stigma attached to mental health both within the workplace and our broader communities.”