Business leaders call for mandatory mental health first aid

20th November 2018 Employment

According to licenced training provider Mental Health First Aid England (‘MHFA’), 1 in 6 people will experience work-related stress, depression or anxiety at some point during their working life. In order to address this issue, chief executives of leading businesses such as Royal Mail, WH Smith and Channel 4 have signed an open letter to Theresa May urging her to legislate on mental health first aid in the workplace.

What are they proposing?

Physical first aid training is mandatory in working environments, and it is suggested that employers should also be required to train an equal number of employees in mental health first aid. Selected employees would be trained to identify the early symptoms of mental ill health, including how to deal with emergency situations, such as if a colleague has a panic attack. Trained individuals would also be equipped to direct colleagues to support provided by both the employer and the NHS. A key part of the proposal is a shift in resources and focus to deal with the prevention of mental health issues, rather than the aftermath.

A ‘shake-up’ of mental health law was promised by the Government in 2017, but since then suggested schemes such as this one have been proffered on a voluntary basis. It is hoped by business leaders that this open letter will be the catalyst for the desired legislative change, and serve as an example of the business-led support for mandatory mental health first aid.

The cost

As well as impacting the lives of those affected, the monetary cost of mental ill health in the workplace is significant. Mental ill health causes reductions in productivity and increases in staff turnover. 15.4 million working days are lost each year to work related stress, anxiety and depression which costs the UK economy around £35 billion per year. It is therefore clear that, although there will be a cost for providing mental health first aid training, the positive impacts for employers should far outweigh the financial burden.

There are already around 300,000 trained mental health first aiders in the UK, and employers who have implemented the scheme, such as Thames Water, have seen a 75% reduction in work-related stress, depression and anxiety. They also reported an increase in occupational health referrals for mental ill health showing that more employees who need support are being identified - a positive outcome for employees and employers alike.

The future

The chairman of the MHFA has commented:

Mental ill health costs UK businesses dearly and the negative impact on a person’s quality of life is immeasurable, so it makes complete sense that every workplace is legally bound to make provision for both mental and physical first aid„.

Such sentiments are shared by many in the business world at a time which has recently described as a ‘mental health crises’ by Luciana Berger, who is a labour MP at the forefront of campaigns for better mental health provisions. Although mental health first aid training will not solve all the issues, it would no doubt help alleviate some of the causes and effects of mental ill health in the workplace.

The Government have not yet responded to the open letter, but some employers may choose to implement mental health first aid training in anticipation of their reply, or at least begin to consider what it may look like.

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Simon Bloch is a Partner located in Manchester in our Employment department

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