The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the UK’s regulator for workplace health and safety, has extended its First Aid guidance to include supporting staff experiencing a mental health issue.
In keeping with the HSE’s general position that those who create the risks are best placed to control them, the guidance states that employers "should consider ways to manage mental ill health in your workplace which are appropriate for your business”.
It goes on to suggest a number of actions an employer might take including appointing Mental Health First Aiders.
What is Mental Health First Aid?
Mental Health First Aiders are trained to recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues and to guide a person towards the right support, be that self-care and/or professional services. Just like traditional First Aid, they are not qualified to treat or diagnose illness.
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training was developed in Australia by Betty Kitchener and Anthony Jorm in 2000.
In 2003 a number of pilots were run in Scotland culminating in what was then the Scottish Executive funding the creation of a Scottish course (MHFA Scotland, n.d.).
It was subsequently launched by the Department of Health: National Institute for Mental Health in England as part of a national approach to improving public mental health in 2007 (MHFA England n.d.), as well as in Wales and Northern Ireland.
MHFA and employers - not a new concept
Since the Coalition government's "No Health without Mental Health" outcomes strategy, Public Health authorities across the United Kingdom have encouraged employers to provide mentally healthy workplaces and have suggested or offered Mental Health First Aid training.
For example, MHFA featured with other training programmes that support the three steps employers are asked to take in ‘No Health Without Mental Health: Implementation Framework” (HM Government, 2012).
It continues to be recognised as having a role in improving mental health outcomes across the UK and is embedded in many workplaces.
In 2017 Theresa May announced plans to reform mental health support in schools, workplaces and communities. This included commissioning a review of how employers can better support and protect employees mental health as well as ensure those with mental health problems can thrive in the workplace.
The review's report "Thriving at Work" made a number of recommendations including outlining a framework for action for employers set around 6 core standards for a mentally healthy workplace (HM Government, 2017). It includes developing mental health awareness among employees and providing support. Training and toolkits available from MHFA England are listed as resources available to help employers meet the proposed standards.
In October 2017, the Government put in place a £15 million programme to train 1 million people in basic mental health “first aid” skills.
10 reasons to bring Mental Health First Aid to work
Here are 10 reasons to have workplace Mental Health First Aiders.
1. The World Health Organisation estimates that one in four people will have a mental health problem at some point in their lives (WHO, 2001).
2. We spend most of our adult lives at work.
3. Mental health problems and their symptoms can make work difficult, and work can have a negative impact on people’s mental health (MIND, 2014)
4. Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, all employers have a duty of protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their business. This includes a duty to assess the risks arising from hazards at work, including work-related mental health problems.
5. Work-related stress, depression or anxiety account for nearly half of all work-related sickness in the UK (HSE, 2018b).
6. Open dialogue and early intervention can prevent significant mental health problems from developing (Government of Victoria, n.d.)
7. Mental Health First Aid training gives people the knowledge, the skills and the confidence to intervene early and signpost where to go for professional help and support (MHFA England, 2018)
8. With the right support, people with mental health problems can remain in work which is more sustainable than helping them return to a job after an absence (OECD, 2014)
9. Poor mental health costs. It costs the individual, their family, the employer and the UK economy. In 2017 it was estimated to cost businesses between £33 billion and £42 billion (HM Government, 2017).
10. People play a key role in the success of any company; smart workplaces know it makes sense to look after their health and wellbeing (MIND, n.d.)
The publication of the HSE guidance comes just days after the government was urged by 50 business leaders to amend the Health and Safety regulations so that workplaces are required by law to provide both physical and mental health first aid.
Read the open letter to Theresa May here
Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 Available at: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1974/37/section/2
Government of Victoria (n.d). Early intervention in mental illness. Accessed 28 November 2018
HM Government (2012) No Health Without Mental Health Implementation Framework Report. Accessed 26 November 2018
HM Government (2017). Thriving at Work: A review of mental health and employers. Accessed 26 November 2018
HSE (2018a). First Aid Needs Assessment. Accessed 26 November, 2018
HSE (2018b) Work related stress depression or anxiety statistics in Great Britain 2018. Accessed 26 November, 2018
MHFA England (n.d.). About Us. Accessed 26 November 2018
MHFA Scotland (n.d.) About SMHFA Accessed 25 November 2018.
Mind (2014). We've got work to do. Accessed 26 November, 2018
Mind (n.d) Mentally Healthy Workplaces. Assessed 25 November 2018 OECD (2015). Fit Mind, Fit Job : From Evidence to Practice in Mental Health and Work (Summary). Accessed 27 November, 2018
World Health Organisation (2001). World Health Report: Mental disorders affect one in four people. Accessed 27 November, 2018