Mental Health Awareness

Mental Health in the Workplace and Mental Health First Aid

The 13th May see’s the start of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week.  In today’s increasingly knowledgeable and tolerant society, there’s still a whole lot of social stigma surrounding mental health.

Mental health is conventionally defined by a person’s level of psychological well-being or the absence of mental illness – mental illness referring collectively to any diagnosable health condition characterised by an alteration in thinking, mood or behaviour associated with distress or impaired functioning.  Mental illness is not indicative of a negative state, yet the stigma surrounding the issue of mental health is often one of weakness and shame. This year’s theme is Body Image: how we think, feel about, and identify with our bodies.

New online surveys conducted by YouGov in March, highlighted that one in five adults felt shame, just over one-third felt low, and 19 per cent felt outright disgusted regarding their body image in the past year.

One in eight adults experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings because of concerns about their body image.  Over one in five adults said images used in advertising had caused them to worry about their body image.

Mental illness is more common than cancer, diabetes and heart disease.   The World Health Organisation suggests that nearly 4 billion people are affected by some degree of mental health problem, and that by 2030 the estimated global cost of mental illness will exceed £6 trillion.  The annual impact to the economy from mental health related conditions currently sits at around £100 billion.

With such a deficit it’s no surprise that businesses are the ones to bear the brunt when it comes to cost.  For decades it’s been common practice for organisations to provision their staff with adequate funding and appropriate equipment to support those with physical impairments, and facilities are always at hand should a colleague be taken ill or injured at work.  Conversely, very few businesses view it as common practice to provide the same level of support to those suffering through mental illness.  1 in 6 people experience mental illness in the workplace; for those in full-time employment women are twice as likely as men to have a common mental health problem.  Evidence suggests that 12.7% of all sick days in the UK can be attributed to mental health related conditions.  Better mental health support in the workplace can save UK business up to £8 billion a year.

Depression as a result of mental illness is now the leading cause of global disability.  Employers have a legal obligation to take reasonable steps to remove disadvantages suffered by employees with a disability, and this is not just limited to physical ailments.  According to recent findings by the CIPD, 62% of employees say having a heavy workload (which can be attributed to poor management) is the top cause of stress related absence.  Effective management and a realistic workplace wellbeing strategy is therefore essential for any competitive organisation who wishes to retain an efficient, profitable and happy workforce.  People are an organisation’s greatest asset – employee investment across all levels is critical.  Line Manager’s play a frontline role in the welfare of staff, yet only 30% of Managers have taken part in any form of mental health training.  And only 16% of all staff feel that they’re able to disclose a mental health issue to their manager.

For a modern business, mental health should be a boardroom issue, on par with physical health.  Positive employee wellbeing has a well-documented impact on productivity, performance and engagement.  The Mental Health First Aid Program was first developed nearly 20 years ago in Australia and has since spread to many other countries, with over 1.7 million people worldwide being trained in mental health first aid as of 2016.  In the UK, over 114,000 people are Mental Health First Aiders, with over 1,600 qualified as instructors.

Having someone trained to properly listen and understand, sitting side-by-side to a person asking what they are going through or how they feel, can make a significant difference in the management of a condition.  A trusted, calm and non-judgmental listener can be the first step in essential treatment and recovery, whether that be of a respected staff member, or a valued service user for your organization.   Able Training offer several courses that deal with the management and understanding of mental health issues. You can find information on these courses here:

Basic Counselling Skills

Understanding Depression and Anxiety

Understanding Mental Health and Mental Illness

Understanding Self Harm