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Back in early 2017, the then Prime Minister, Theresa May commissioned an independent review into how employers can support people with poor mental health or well-being to remain in work and to thrive and grow as part of their team. The result was a detailed study of the situation around mental health and employees across the UK[1]. Findings included large costs to employers of between £33 billion and £42 billion per year for dealing with poor mental health amongst their teams, with around 15% of people at work declaring symptoms of existing mental health conditions.

What this all means

These figures represent a large problem playing out across the country for employers seeking to establish and maintain a productive, satisfied workforce and to those directly impacted, who can find their mental health concerns affecting not only their work, but many other aspects of their lives as well. Many of us spend a disproportionately large chunk of our lives in the workplace, travelling to or from it, or dwelling on issues pertaining to it.

Such is the influence that our jobs can have on our whole lives that the workplace seems the logical place to start offering support for mental health concerns in a more formalised way. In other words, with a carefully formulated mental health ‘first aid’ plan. Mental health is a great leveller – everyone ‘has’ mental health, which can be altered by different life events, emotions and expectations. By identifying what poor mental health looks like, how it can be triggered and what people around the affected person can do to help, we can mitigate against its repercussions more effectively.

Just as a team needs a plan to manage a project or a budget at work, so too should its provision for supporting mental health concerns amongst its members be thought about in advance and mapped out. There are many advantages to creating such a plan, including the following six benefits:

Reduces stigma

Thankfully, we are moving away from the days when people struggling with their mental health were at best awkwardly ignored, or at worst ostracised or attacked for their differences. While we can always do more to support people affected by poor mental health most of us now have a better understanding of the issues and ways to help. The more we can get mental health out into the open and put plans in place to support each other, the better it will be for everyone.

Identifies triggers

Poor mental health, negative thoughts or anxiety can be triggered by various events or circumstances, can last differing amounts of times and manifest in various ways[1]. The first link in the chain of recovery is spotting how triggers affect different people at work, and how to help them avoid, change or cope with the associated feelings and reactions. Everyone reacts to triggers, but knowing how to see them coming can help everyone be prepared. This is a key part of any work-based mental health first aid plan.

Gives people tools to help each other

If all of the colleagues in a team or organisation can learn more about anxiety, stress and depression and their effects on themselves and other people, this can help spread understanding and help those directly affected by them feel more confident to speak out and ask for support if they are struggling[2]. It helps the whole group learn patience, empathy and compassion, as well as how to work effectively together, so that no-one makes matters worse through intentional or inadvertent judgement, lack of knowledge or speaking out of turn.

Cuts down on sickness

Companies of all shapes and sizes and across all sectors are affected by employees calling in sick – it’s just part of being human and working with other humans. The key part in all of this is how employee health is managed. Not just their physical well-being either; protecting mental health and resilience is just as important. A good mental health first aid plan will factor in ways to help people develop tools to help them deal with their workload, press on through tougher times and – most importantly – feel confident enough to ask for help before it’s too late and they feel too anxious or unwell to come into work.

Retains good employees

The same report discovered that a staggering 30,000 people with a long-term mental health problem lose their jobs each year – a higher rate that those with physical health conditions[3]. That’s a lot of staff movement, that brings with it copious amounts of leaver’s admin, recruitment costs and training commitments for the departing employee’s replacement. Teams and organisations that can demonstrate a clear commitment to staff mental health support and evidence that they encourage people to advance in their roles will normally see a far greater staff retention record, leading to a more stable, settled environment and a happier, more productive workforce.

Enhances your reputation

Finally, people looking for jobs these days are looking for much more than basic job satisfaction and a decent salary or wage. We have all been encouraged to pay closer attention to adopting a more holistic approach to how we work and play, and making sure that everything we do can make us thrive, mentally and physically. If your organisation can show that plenty of thought has been put into this aspect of modern living, especially in the guise of a sympathetically composed and clearly written mental health first aid plan, this will make you a far more attractive prospect to work with and do business with.

Looking to lead the way in mental health first aid?

A great place to start when considering how to create your own mental health plan at work is signing up to a MHFA (Mental Health First Aid) course that will guide you through what mental health is and means, how different people can be affected by someone’s poor mental health at work and what you need to include in a formal workplace mental health first aid plan. If you would like to find out more or to book a training session, please contact Gayle Young on 07740 478999 to get the ball rolling.

Creating a comprehensive mental health first aid plan for your team or organisation is a key part of being a compassionate leader whom teams can trust to act on their behalf and help them thrive as a team and as individuals. However, this is just one aspect of being a considerate, empathetic leader. Watch out for our new series of blogs coming in the second half of 2020 that explores the fascinating wider subject of compassion in leadership.

[1] Source: Thriving at Work: the Stevenson/ Farmer Review of Mental Health and Employees

[2] Source:

[3] Source: Thriving at Work: the Stevenson/ Farmer Review of Mental Health and Employees

[4] Source: ‘A Guide to mental health at work: how to help colleagues cope with stress and depression’ by Sir John Thompson, 2019, p 75

Post Author: Gayle Young