by Alan Hickley, Associate Director of Peninsula Ireland.
Mental health first aid (MHFA) takes a proactive approach toward dealing with mental health issues in the workplace.
It’s not uncommon for some employees to keep any mental health conditions they may be dealing with to themselves. This is down to the stigma and stereotypes surrounding ill mental health and the people living with it.
In this piece, as well as highlighting the importance of investing in MHFA, we’ll also discuss its benefits for your organisation.
What is mental health first aid?
According to a study by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, up to 22% of Irish workers experience some level of stress at work most of the time.
As the name suggests, it is simply first aid for mental health. It involves training individuals to gain the skills needed to be able to identify and respond to the symptoms of ill mental health.
In the UK, The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates the number of working days lost due to work-related ill-health, such as depression, stress and anxiety in 2017/18 at 15.4 million days. This figure is said to cost the economy up to £18 million a year due to lost productivity.
And although the rates for sick leave in the UK is falling, issues relating to mental health are on the rise. A report from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) estimates the cost of this to employer and employees to be upwards of £100 billion this year.
Your duty of care as an employer requires you to protect the health and wellbeing of your employees. Their mental health falls under this.
While it’s not uncommon for most workplaces to have a designated first aider, MHFA extends this responsibility to other members of your workforce. It teaches employers and managers to support an employee experiencing mental health problems.
An effective MHFA programme also teaches them to:
- Listen, reassure and respond appropriately in times of crisis.
- Recognise the early stages of a mental health condition.
- Support employees to prevent harm to themselves or others.
- Minimise the impacts of mental ill-health on your business.
- Manage those with existing mental health conditions to prevent it worsening.
Benefits of mental health first aid training
With the costs and effects associated with ill mental health on the rise, employers must now focus their efforts on strategies to support staff that might be struggling with mental health issues.
There are numerous benefits to training your staff in Mental Health First Aid. As well as improving knowledge and confidence on issues relating to mental health, other benefits include:
- Understanding the important factors affecting mental ill-health.
- Reducing negative attitudes and stigma towards staff members with mental health problems.
- Identifying the signs and symptoms of various mental health conditions.
- Promoting a mentally healthy working environment.
- Creating a positive culture towards mental health in the organisation.
- Encourage open and honest conversation about mental health.
- Offering various support options for employees coping with mental health issues.
As well as helping to meet your legal obligation, investing in MHFA also contributes to reducing stress, anxiety and depression. All of which are said to be some of the biggest causes of sickness absences at work.
With appropriate training, your staff will be able to proactively manage health and wellbeing and promote a healthy work environment.