Priorities

Mental Health as Important as Physical Health in the Workplace

Mental Health as Important as Physical Health in the Workplace

by Shruthi Venkatesh November 20 2018, 4:05 pm Estimated Reading Time: 3 mins, 48 secs

Theresa May has been urged  by some of Britain’s leading business leaders to act on a pledge to make mental health first aid mandatory in all workplaces. May said last year that she would shake up mental health service provision, describing the shortfall as “one of the burning injustices in our country”.

More than 50 chief executives including Royal Mail, WH Smith, Mace, Channel 4 and Ford, as well as the Unite union from banking, retail, education and utility sectors, have signed an open letter to the Prime Minister, warning that every year, workplace mental health issues cost the UK economy almost £35 billion, with 15.4 million working days lost to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. They highlight a petition signed by more than 200,000 people, calling for a change in the law to give mental health first aid equal status to physical first aid.

Make it compulsory to have a mental health first aider at work #wheresyourheadat - Sarah Newton (change.org)

Natasha Devon, one of the campaigners behind the letter, said the movement's motivation was that “power is more important” to the Government than mental health “so we enlisted the help of 50 of country’s most powerful business leaders”. The letter said employers’ duty of care should mean “equalising their number of mental health first aiders with physical first aiders” and trying to “break the stigma of mental health in the workplace”.

According to Mental Health First Aid England, a social enterprise that provides awareness training found that one in six people of working age will experience mental ill health including depression, anxiety or issues relating to stress. Approximately it is almost up to 5 million people.

More than 300,000 people in England have been trained in mental health first aid, to recognise the signs and symptoms of common issues, according to MHFA. Simon Blake, chief executive, said “The principle is enshrined in workplace law. Just as a physical first aider might know how to use CPR to save a life or put someone in the recovery position, a mental health first aider also uses a set of skills to guide a person who is struggling or in crisis to a place of safety and support.”

Stephen Clarke, CEO of WHSmith and one of the signatories, said: “At WHSmith, our employees’ mental health is of equal importance to their physical health. Every one of our 14,000 employees has access to mental health support and we are proud to have the same number of mental health first aiders across our business as we do physical health first aiders. We are calling for this legislative change, alongside many other leading employers, as we firmly believe that everyone should have access to first aid support for their mental health regardless of where they work.”

In regard to this, Fionnuala Bonnar, chief operating officer of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), which is leading the campaign, said the letter showed that business leaders recognise the need to support their employees’ mental health as much as their physical health. “This is just one part of improving approaches to workplace mental health, but it represents an important step forward,” she said. “Ensuring that first aid support is there for the millions of people who struggle with their mental health every year will make a big difference to how we all think about our health as a whole.”

Ms Natasha Devon said “There is still such a stigma around mental health for the older generation. Fifty percent of people working in London, who had to take time off work last year because of mental health issues, lied to their boss about the reason they were not at work. The issue is still so tied up with character and professionalism. We need to change workplace culture.” A survey of more than 44,000 employees showed that only half of the 48% who had experienced poor mental health had talked to their employer about it.

Mind said the findings suggested as many as one in four workers is struggling in silence with problems such as anxiety, low mood and stress. Professor Mark Watson-Gandy, chairman of MHFA, stated “Mental ill health costs UK businesses dearly and the negative impact on a person’s quality of life is immeasurable, so it makes complete sense that every workplace is legally bound to make provision for both mental and physical first aid.”



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