I’ve been so busy lately, not only have I been involved with the training of new Mental Health First Aid instructors as part of my National Training Team role, I’ve been delivering a host of other mental health training in a number of workplace across the country.  I’m see so much proactive work going on, it’s been great. That said, as I have heard so many times lately, we have a long way to go! Mental health awareness has really come to the fore lately. Over the last few months several really proactive documents have been published. What with the Green Paper regarding the mental health of children and young people and the role of schools, we have also seen the release of a fabulous document from Acas, Promoting positive mental health in the workplace and the Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers, Thriving at work. It almost feels like really change may be in the offing.

These documents offer a clear approach to improving health and wellbeing that is both sensible and achievable. None of the suggestions are rocket science, indeed many of the things that are suggested are already part of  the work that I and my colleagues do at Golden Tree CIC do already. Yet, also within the reports are some very disturbing issues that indicate despite the work that is being done, much more needs to be done. The huge costs to businesses of between £33 and £42 billion is astonishing with the over half of this cost coming from presenteeism (being at work but not being productive at work because of poor mental health) with the total cost to the UK being in the region of £99 billion!

The Stevenson/Farmer review sets out some clear core standards that would help improve this picture of distress and the impact it has on businesses and  the wider community. These standards are:
• Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan;
• Develop mental health awareness among employees;
• Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling;
• Provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development;
• Promote effective people management through line managers and supervisors;
• Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.

I’ve supported a number of organisations with many of these suggestions but I want to focus on a couple that go beyond the development of policy – the training of staff and the effective communication strands of the standards. I feel that these things can help make that policy a living breathing thing and not, as many policies often end up, decorating a shelf or being a tick box process.

It was fabulous to see mental health first aid being highlighted as a way to improve the understanding of mental health issues. I’m proud to deliver all the  Mental Health First Aid England products, the 3 hour Mental Health awareness training, the new one-day Mental Health Champion programme and of course the excellent skills-based two-day Mental Health First Aid course. These course really can contribute to the understanding of mental health problems and give people the confidence to respond appropriately to people experiencing issues. These courses don’t train people to be therapists or expect that managers and supervisors will have an on-going responsibility to provide care and support to individuals but they can help developing a level of empathy and understanding that can not only help with the early recognition of an issues but understand the importance and ways of ‘checking in’ on people if they do need to take some time off work.

One of the key elements in helping is communication – in particular having the conversation around mental health. This isn’t easy; in a recent course developed at Golden Tree CIC, ‘Managing Distress in the Workplace’ we’ve been exploring ways of starting and engaging in these conversations. Yes, the course looks at the causes of stress, both at home and at work, yes, of course it links to the HSE stress management standards, but importantly it looks at distress – how that manifests and  how we can engage with that. This training around how to have the discussion about our mental wellbeing is key to promoting positive working environments. People are afraid to talk about their mental health because they fear the response they may get from a colleague or manager. That needs to change and that change needs to be promoted across the workplace.
Another key element that supports the promotion of a healthy workplace is the wider understanding of how we can become more resilient. What often gets talked about are the 5 Ways to Wellbeing (Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give) These are simple and effective strategies that everyone can begin to engage with. Recently at some toolbox talks we delivered as part of a company’s wellbeing strategy, the response was amazing as we taught a number of sessions about sleep hygiene, mindfulness and meditation, some staff whilst initially sceptical of the reasons behind the training began to see the benefits not only in their working lives but in their personal lives as well.

Now this all costs money; we recognise this as do both the reports but here’s the thing – it makes financial sense to do so! A report by Deloitte indicated that for every pound spent on making the workplace a more mentally health place and improving understanding of mental health issues the return is £9.98! Sickness absence rates improve and presenteeism reduces.
But really this talk of savings and return on investment is a side issue. Businesses need to take action not for any financial reason but just because it’s the right thing to do.

Thanks for reading