According to mental health charity Mind, almost 50 per cent of UK workers have had a mental health problem that impacts their ability to work at some point. Less than 50 per cent of these workers have told their employer, believing that admitting to suffering from stress, anxiety or depression could prejudice them and affect their career chances.
While some employers do discriminate against staff with mental health problems, even though this is illegal, many more are realising that these staff need to be supported in the same way as employees with other health problems.
Some of the UK’s largest companies recently came together to acknowledge this fact and call on the government to do more to help working people with mental health problems. This call, which came in the form of an open letter to Prime Minister Theresa May, asked the government to follow through on its manifesto pledge to improve mental health services and support.
Last year, May said she was committed to shaking up mental health provision; however, employers such as Royal Mail, Channel 4, Ford and WHSmith and unions such as Unite want to see more being done.
This includes making changes to health and safety legislation so that first aiders are trained to not only deal with physical injuries but also mental health problems in the workplace. They want to see as many mental health first aiders as there are physical first aiders, which will not only provide people with mental health problems with support but also help to reduce the stigma around mental health in the workplace.
Supporting staff with mental health problems may have an initial cost; however, this is seen as well worth it, given that staff absence due to mental ill health is estimated to have cost the UK economy almost £35bn last year. Approximately 15 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, anxiety or depression.
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, a social enterprise that trains employers in how to support staff with mental health problems, said that the principles of its training are enshrined in workplace law and should be enacted.
So far, over 300,000 people have taken its training, including businesses such as WHSmith and Thames Water. The latter has over 350 mental health first aiders across its organisation and reports a 75 per cent reduction in incidents of work-related stress, anxiety and depression since 2013.
MHFA said that if employers have mental health first aiders in their workplace, they can reduce staff absences and improve productivity, making any cost very worthwhile.