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Let's talk more about mental at work, 5 ways organisations can make mental health a priority

We don't talk enough about mental health, it touches everyone in different ways and has a profound impact on people personally and professionally. According to Mind, 1 in 4 of us will experience mental health problems and over 2 million of us are on waiting lists to get help from NHS mental health services. In 2023 a bill, the First-Aid (Mental Health) Bill, went before Parliament calling for it to be mandatory that businesses provide mental health first aid within the workplace, seeing the first real legal step to addressing more widely mental health concerns at work. Whilst I hate to say it, in the modern workplace, where diversity and inclusion are celebrated, there's often one area where silence still reigns supreme: mental health. Breaking the silence and creating a culture where mental health is openly discussed, valued, and supported should be at the forefront of the minds of business leaders, not only is it just the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense.

So how can businesses make the mental health of their people a priority? Here are our top five tips for creating a mental health focused culture...

Top 5 tips to help organisations make mental health a priority

  1. Start at the Top: Leadership sets the tone for workplace culture. One of the most powerful examples I've seen of this is leaders being really open about their struggles with mental health. An organisation that I previously worked for had panel discussion with the leaders and the employees where the leaders openly talked about their mental health struggles and role modelled the fact that everyone experiences these struggles and with help and support you can get through them. Not everyone will be comfortable doing this sort of thing, which is completely understandable, but when organisational leaders prioritise mental health and demonstrate their commitment through actions and words, it sends a powerful message to employees that mental well-being matters. Leaders should lead by example by openly discussing mental health, encouraging conversations, and supporting initiatives aimed at promoting mental well-being in the workplace. A practical way of making sure this happens is having leaders and manager trained to provide support as mental health first aiders to help them understand the early signs and symptoms and provide support to their people.

  2. Educate and Raise Awareness: Many people still lack a basic understanding of mental health concerns. I often hear cases of individuals being away from work with mental health concerns and other employees seeing them out and about doing daily tasks then raising concerns about this not realising that when you have mental health concerns that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be confined to your home. To me, this is an example of people just not understanding some of the mechanics of individuals having mental health concerns. Education and awareness initiatives can help dispel myths, reduce stigma and obviously these shouldn't be things that we just focus on during mental health awareness week, organisations should look to educate and raise awareness all year round. Organisations like Mind provide great free resources to help with how organisations can raise awareness.

  3. Normalise Conversations: Break down the barriers by normalising conversations about mental health. In the example above this was done brilliantly by senior leaders talking about their experiences. This can often be one of the hardest things for organisations to master, particularly as it relies heavily of the ability of your line managers and leaders. Encourage open dialogue and create opportunities for employees to share their experiences and challenges without fear of judgment or reprisal. Establishing regular check-ins and support groups can provide a safe space for individuals to discuss their mental health and seek guidance or support from colleagues. Don’t forget about your colleagues who work remotely where this is especially important given the greater possibility that they might feel iscolated whilst away from the workplace.

  4. Offer Supportive Resources: Make mental health support readily available and accessible to all employees. This includes providing access to counselling services, employee assistance programs, and mental health resources. A lot of organisations have programmes like Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) which typically include provisions for counselling and mental health support, as an organisation if you has these do make sure you make them visible to your people. If you don't have these things in place, look into what support you can provide to your people, options like EAPs are often very competitively priced and are sometimes included with standard private health care schemes offered by organisations.

  5. Promote a Culture of Compassion and Empathy: Foster a workplace culture that values compassion, empathy, and understanding. This is so easy to say but is often quite difficult to do in practice. Encourage employees to support one another, practice active listening, and offer help to those in need. In doing so, make sure you also train employees on these points and where you can, and it's relevant, have these ideas woven into your overall company values.

Should we have Mental Health First Aiders?

Mental health first aiders can be great assets to an organisation. Typically it takes a couple of days to train in mental health first aid with a requirement for periodic refreshers. Mental Health First Aiders are valuable in providing early intervention help for someone who may be developing a mental health issue. Mental Health First Aiders are not trained to be therapists or psychiatrists but they can offer initial support through non-judgemental listening and guidance. Where you can it’s extremely useful to have mental health first aiders within your business to support your people.

The Legal Bit

Whilst this hasn't become legislation as yet, organisations should be aware that a new law requiring businesses to offer mental health first aid training was presented to Parliament on Wednesday 25 January 2023 by Dean Russell, MP for Watford. The First-Aid (Mental Health) Bill is currently in its first reading within the House of Commons and whilst there's no guarantee, this could quite easily become law so is definitely something for organisations to be aware of and start planning for.

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  • All information within the post is provided for guidance only; always seek your own legal advice.

  • The information with this post was correct at the time of publishing, May 2024 but may be subject to change.

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