Do organisations need Mental Health First Aiders?
Why companies are training employees to ensure no one suffers in silence...
Growing public concern regarding mental wellbeing – it is now placed second on an Ipsos Mori list of public health concerns in the UK - should serve as a warning to employers to take their employees' mental health seriously. With 32% of the 2018 Ipsos Mori survey respondents identifying mental wellbeing as the health issue they were most concerned about, it shows that, individuals at least, are considering their wellbeing more sensitively. However, it remains to be seen whether increased awareness of the issue has translated into tangible employer consideration. Even if it has, knowing what action to take can be even more complex.
There are some worrying stats that should spark employers into action though. Throughout 2016/17, there were over half a million cases of work related stress, depression or anxiety. As a result, Richard Holmes, Director of Wellbeing at Westfield Health says it has never been so important for organisations to invest in the mental health of their employees. Couple this with a Government report which estimated that the cost of poor mental health to UK business stands between £33billion and £42billion a year, it’s surprising to find so few companies creating mental health strategies. Currently, just one in five employers invest in measures to promote better mental health according to research published by EEF & Westfield Health and carried out by the Institute of Employment Studies. Whilst it’s not just incumbent on HR to ensure individuals at their firm are giving wellbeing increased importance, they should be cultivating an environment conducive to better allround health – ensuring that staff know where to turn to if things aren’t quite right.
There are some great examples of best practise. High-street retailer WHSmith have made it their priority to ensure there is better parity regarding their approaches toward physical and mental health. To do this they have equipped teams with Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAiders), who are trained to use a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) action plan to spot the signs and symptoms of mental health issues assessing risk, listening nonjudgmentally and guiding someone to a place of further support. Alison Garbutt, Head of Strategic Projects at WHSmith notes the importance of this: “Taking action and seeking help if someone has fainted is second nature to at least a few people in every workplace. But can we say the same when it comes to supporting someone experiencing a mental health issue such as a panic attack?"
Garbutt raises a salient point. Whilst EEF research found that almost a third of organisations train managers to manage stress, just one in five utilise mental health first aid (MHFA) training despite the value in having well-trained staff at hand, according to Kaitlyn Apfelbeck, Director of HR at Voices.com. She explains: “I wanted our HR department to be trained in MHFA, since HR professionals are often who employees turn to first when their mental health is suffering. It’s one thing to listen to someone’s concerns, write them down for documentation, and then assume the employee will do what’s best for themselves. It’s another to have HR professionals who know how to react, what steps to take next, and where to direct the employee for help.”
Jaan Madan, Workplace Lead at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England agrees that a whole organisation approach to wellbeing is more proactive. Citing the Mental Health Foundation report, which found that 23% of employees compromise their health to do their job and 28% of employees have been less productive at work due to stress, Madan believes more support is required, advocating training as part of this. Apfelbeck agrees that by coupling training with open conversations, you can start to move forward. “We want to make more people aware of what to look for, how to respond, and how to communicate in a respectful yet impactful way to help someone who may be suffering,” she explains. “Ideally, we would have all managers trained in this area, but training the HR department is the first step.”
Which feeds into the overall aim of having dedicated workplace specialists able to spot signs of anxiety, depression and stress. With HR working to ensure employees bring their best selves to work every day, providing that reassurance means, hopefully, your employees won’t be suffering in silence.