The stigma associated with mental health isn’t quite as widespread as it used to be, and companies are increasingly looking internally to see what role they should be playing in preventing and tackling mental health problems as part of their drive to improve workplace culture.
Organisations must start caring about employees as a whole, including rolling-out specific mental health initiatives such as mental health first aiders (MHFA). Being a MHFA myself, I am a strong advocate for this approach to mental illness prevention and support, and consider it to be a vital investment for any organisation. Here’s why.
MHFAs are a key part of a caring culture
If your organisation understands the importance of putting its staff first, being appreciative of their efforts and caring for their needs, then it’s a natural progression to invest in MHFAs. Having first aiders in place ensures staff’s mental health needs are being prioritised and the knock-on effect is a healthier, happier and engaged workforce. It’s also important for mental health to be taken seriously from the top of the organisation down – having MHFAs can’t simply be a ‘tick box’ exercise. Encouraging all leaders to attend a mental health awareness workshop should form part of this.
MHFAs prove it’s okay not to be okay
I have personal experience of family who have struggled with depression and anxiety and needed someone to talk to at work. Unfortunately, this support was non-existent. They were not offered the help they needed at a critical time, adding to their anxiety and making them feel a burden. Instead of admitting to their problems and trying to find help, they became a lot more insular, which is why it’s so important to make opening-up about mental health acceptable.
The O.C. Tanner Institute has found that nearly one-fifth of UK workers (19 per cent) admit to being dissatisfied with their life, 14 per cent feel as though their life is spiralling out of control and nearly a quarter (23 per cent) feel unable to cope with everything life may throw at them. It’s so important for workers to know that they aren’t alone in their struggles and they don’t have to suffer in silence. Companies that invest in MHFAs are making mental illness acceptable and are letting their staff know that there is help available.
MHFAs fill the gap between employees and line managers
It’s far easier to approach someone with a specific mental health role for advice and support rather than a line manager or HR. In fact only 16 per cent of employees feel able to disclose a mental health issue to their manager. Knowing that any mental health discussions with a MHFA are confidential and won’t impact employee-manager relations can often encourage an employee to seek help.
Early intervention is more likely
Approximately one in three of the UK workforce are diagnosed with a mental health problem at some point in their life and financial and job worries can make it harder for people to cope. With 50 million working days lost every year due to work-related stress, providing employees with mental health support and advice sooner rather than later is key. MHFAs can play an important role in supporting colleagues at an early stage, helping to prevent mental health issues from escalating.
MHFAs support colleagues’ return to work
MHFAs provide support to colleagues at different stages of their mental health journey, including when staff return to work after suffering with mental illness. It’s important that employees are given the full support needed to ease their return and make their transition back to work as stress-free as possible. With many HR departments stretched, MHFAs are a much-needed support network.
Putting mental health first
Every organisation needs to invest in mental health first aiders who can provide confidential support at critical times in people’s lives, helping to prevent more serious and irreversible outcomes – mental health problems really can be a matter of life or death! It is, however, key for any MHFA programme to form part of a wider company initiative to improve organisational culture. Employees need to feel that the company truly cares about their health and wellbeing, and factors such as the company’s purpose, how successful it is, workplace opportunities, quality of leadership and staff recognition all play an important role in the emotional wellbeing of staff. So don’t put off tackling mental health and look to introduce MHFAs. People who take the time to listen and not judge may prove your smartest investment yet!