The Importance of Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace for Employees and Organisations

mental health

The Importance of Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace for Employees and Organisations

As we come to better understand the impact and experience of mental ill-health in the workplace there is a growing agreement that more needs to be done to equip businesses and managers with the skills and tools to support employees who are suffering. The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day on 10th October is ‘Psychological First Aid’, and while much of the focus is on supporting those who have experienced or witnessed trauma or loss, the importance of Psychological or Mental Health First Aid is ubiquitous across all situations, and is something the business community is crying out for.

In their survey; ‘Mental Health at Work Report 2016’ Business in the Community found that 76% of managers surveyed believe that supporting the mental health and wellbeing of their employees is part of their managerial responsibility, but only 22% of managers have had any formal training on how to deal with such issues. Consequently almost half (49%) of managers surveyed would appreciate the opportunity to undergo training on basic mental health, clearly demonstrating that frontline leaders do recognise there is still room for improvement. However while it is encouraging that so many leaders want to take an active role in supporting their employees, and even recognise what they may need in order to do so, there remain significant barriers to making this happen. The primary barrier being a disjointed view of the situation at a senior level; at board level 60% of respondents felt their organisation effectively supports employee wellbeing and mental health. This, despite the fact that so many managers believe they aren’t equipped to offer adequate support and that 69% frequently feel compelled to prioritise corporate needs over the wellbeing of their employees. Sadly the survey results also showed that 77% of employees have experienced poor mental health in their lives and 62% believe that work plays a contributing role to this. With only 11% speaking to their managers about the issue, it is clear why mental health remains such a pressing issue in the workplace, but also why senior leaders aren’t able to see the problems present in their organisation.

In order for mental health to be better supported in the workplace there needs to be a drastic change; employees need to be actively encouraged to talk about their experiences, but equally managers need to have the knowledge and training to be able to support their employees when they do decide to speak up. The culture of silence and misunderstanding that still pervades in our society is one that continues to do more damage than good. But progress is being made; there is currently a bid being discussed in government to make Mental Health First Aid a mandatory aspect of general first aid training in the workplace, helping to highlight the mental health is equally as important as physical health. Add to this the fact that so many managers feel responsible for their employees and want to be able to help them, the changes we are seeing are hugely encouraging. It’s now about highlighting the disconnect that exists so change can happen, and continuing to break down the barriers so that people can and do speak openly about their mental health, and get the support they need when they need it.