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Mental Health First Aider

Posted on 6th November, 2018

Having practiced physical First Aid in the past I was intrigued to understand what a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA) was.

Anyone with First Aid training will remember the importance of spotting the vital physical symptoms before providing assistance, such as bleeding from a paper cut to the dreaded turning blue. But what if there aren’t any overt physical symptoms?

Mental health conditions, which include depression, anxiety and bipolar, affect 1 in 4 people and are by their nature invisible illnesses. As various legal duties compel employers to consider the wellbeing of their employees, not only where they may be disabled under the Equality Act 2010, this presents them with a formidable challenge.

A “Thriving at Work” report was commissioned in January 2017 to identify the impact mental health was having on UK workers. The findings of the Stevenson/Farmer review published in October 2017 were stark, “…the UK is facing a mental health challenge at work that is much larger than we had thought.”

The review went on to point out that 300,000 people with a long-term mental health condition lose their job each year. This is significantly higher than those with a long-term physical condition, despite political rhetoric alluding to the mirage of parity in the treatment of mental and physical health issues.

Research shows that the cost of mental health to employers is between £33-£42 billion each year. Approximately half of that total was attributable to “presentism” – a term coined to describe an employee’s reluctance to call in sick due to loyalty issues or fears about job security and in itself an indicator or aggravating factor of poor mental health.

Several FTSE companies including Deloitte, PWC, WH Smith and Aviva, have been championing mental health within the workplace in an effort to reduce sickness by supporting employees to thrive at work. Preferably, this is endorsed from board level down, through employee handbooks, training, working groups and even mindfulness and yoga classes (the latter currently being mooted at Jacksons). And, of course, the appointment of a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA).

So what does a Mental Health First Aider do? There are similarities between the skills required of mental and physical first aid practitioners including enhanced interpersonal skills, appreciation of the need for confidentiality, and the time and empathy to be able to listen to colleagues mental health concerns. Training is essential so that the MHFA is aware of the range of resources available to assist employees with wellbeing, in addition to developing their ability to listen non-judgmentally, spot the signs and symptoms of poor mental health and offer the appropriate support.

Those companies taking an active role in managing mental health in the workplace will not just benefit from the happier working environment and increased productivity that comes with encouraging employees to thrive, they will also be more likely avoid the costly legal pitfalls which can result when key symptoms are ignored. There is an increasing body of case law to illustrate the financial consequences suffered by employers who were unaware – or worse simply ignored – mental health conditions experienced by staff.

Becoming familiar with Disability Discrimination and Health and Safety Law is a good starting place for those employers looking to set up a Wellbeing Strategy for their staff. So, if your business is inspired to start thinking about mental health in the workplace or looking to implement a strategic approach to employee wellbeing, we can help – please contact Lisa Harding by e-mail or call 01642 873729, or visit the Employment Law – Business section of our website.

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