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The importance of supporting mental health in the workplace

In January, we were kindly asked by BizSpace – the UK’s leading provider of regional flexible workspace (where our HQ is located) – if we wanted to invite two members of staff to go on a mental health first aid course to help with supporting those struggling with mental health in the workplace. As a company whose primary objective is to improve the working lives of millions of people, in which mental health plays a huge part, we, of course, jumped at the opportunity.

Our Content and Community Manager, Katy Jackson, and our newly appointed Customer Success Manager, Natalie Bunker, were delighted to attend the two-day Mental Health First Aid England course run by Ann Marie Robinson of BMR Health and Wellbeing, and have taken away some huge learnings that we’d like to share with you today.

Why a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) programme?

The MHFA programme was created in Canberra, Australia, in 2000 by Betty Kitchener (an educator and mental health consumer) in partnership with her husband Professor Anthony Jorm (a mental health researcher).

The aim of the programme was to extend the concept of first aid training to include mental health issues so that community members were empowered to provide better initial support to people developing mental health issues or in mental health crisis. It has since evolved into a global movement with the programme now being adopted and delivered in 24 countries. To date, over four million people worldwide have been trained.

MHFA courses are a suite of evidence-based, accredited training programmes that empower and equip individuals with the knowledge, skills and confidence needed to support a friend, family member or co-worker experiencing a mental health problem or experiencing a crisis such as being suicidal.

The two-day Mental Health First Aid England course taken by our ‘WorkBuzzers’ covered topics such as mental health (influences i.e., stress, stigma and discrimination, and recovery), depression, suicide, substance misuse, anxiety disorders, self-harm, eating disorders, personality disorders, and psychosis.

Those who complete the course are taught an action plan on how to help a person in a mental health crisis or developing mental health issues using the mnemonic ‘ALGEE’ (just like those in a first aid course are taught ‘DRABC’):

A – approach the person, assess, and assist with any crisis
L – listen and communicate non-judgementally
G – give support and information
E – encourage the person to get appropriate professional help
E – encourage other supports

Of the course, Natalie Bunker, WorkBuzz’s new Customer Support Manager, said:

“Mental health and wellbeing are such important topics, especially now. Having completed the course, I’ve gained confidence in my ability to help those who are struggling and fight the stigma surrounding mental ill health. It’s okay to not be okay.”

The importance of supporting mental health in the workplace

Mental illness is a growing global crisis. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Burden of Disease study estimate that almost 800,000 people die from suicide every year. That’s one person every 40 seconds.

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health, along with physical health and social wellbeing is an essential component of overall health.

Over the last two years in particular, the mental health of workers has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving many with feelings of burnout from working excess hours or isolation due to having to work at home alone.

Although mental health is now much more openly talked about and supporting mental health in the workplace is largely seen as a necessity for many jobseekers, there are still countless employers who haven’t yet put the issue front of mind.

Work-related risk factors such as inadequate health and safety policies, poor communication and management practices, low levels of support for employees, performance pressure, and job insecurity can all negatively affect mental health.

Employers who aren’t ‘on top’ of mental health are more likely to have employees with poor mental health and the consequences can be:

  • Lack of engagement
  • Lower productivity and job performance
  • Feelings of depletion
  • Reduced communication
  • Poor decision making

Ann Marie Robinson of BMR Health and Wellbeing said:

“Rapid and near constant change in workplaces is placing unprecedented pressure on employee’s coping resources and, in addition to the pandemic, has affected wellbeing even further. It is vital as employers and employees that we understand employee wellbeing and what contributing factors impact our teams both positively and negatively at work so that we can openly discuss them and implement positive change. There is no health without good mental health. Every business needs a two-way approach.”

About BMR

BMR supports organisations to implement Psychological Health and Safety frameworks aligned to the new global standard ISO45003. This is focused on creating Psychologically Healthy and Safe workplaces within an Occupational Health and Safety Management system. Taking a preventative and risk-based approach ensures that you meet your legal obligations as an employer. You will be able to identify and reduce the sources of work-related stress so that your employees can flourish in a positive work environment.

Ways to promote that you support mental health in the workplace

The most vital action an employer can take is to offer resources for both broader mental health and those who need clinical services. Making clinical services accessible is critical for employees experiencing mental illness. However, most workers do not need clinical care, they need mental health support.

Strategies employers can use to promote mental wellbeing at work include:

  • Employee assistance programmes (EAPs)
  • Relaxation spaces
  • Mental health self-assessment tools
  • Free or subsidised clinical screenings for depression
  • Free or subsidised mental wellbeing coaches or mental health first aid courses
    A range of studies, including randomised controlled trials, have shown that mental health first aid training improves knowledge, reduces stigmatising attitudes, and increases first aid actions towards people with mental health issues.
  • Health insurance with mental health benefits at no or low out-of-pocket costs

If you are looking for the means to find out how happy your people are at work and to get a sense of their overall mental wellbeing, get in touch today to see how our employee surveys can help. Email: hello@workbuzz.com or speak to one of our experts by booking a demo of our employee experience platform.

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