In November of last year, business leaders and unions wrote an open letter to the leaders of our county urging them to give as much weight to mental health as physical. Their message was simple: trivialising workplace mental health is inviting low productivity, poor profitability and severely impacting people’s quality of life. 
 
“Equalise the number of mental health first aiders with physical first aiders” they called in unison. “Break the stigma of mental health in the workplace”. 
Why is mental health training eclipsed by physical first aid? 
 
Mental illness is certainly not a new phenomenon. What is new is the conversation surrounding it. Mental health affects our psychological, social and emotional wellbeing. Basically, everything that cannot be seen by the naked eye unless it is known what to look for. 
 
The mental health movement has certainly seen an increase in businesses taking notice and implementing mental health measures. But statistics show that employers are still more willing to cram their workplaces full of first-aid boxes and teach CPR than they are to focus on mental health. 
 
This is largely down to the following three reasons: 
Employers aren’t sure how to tackle mental health. Physical first aid is a breeze in comparison. 
Health and safety standards in the UK are world-class and workplace lawsuits can have serious repercussions for profitability and reputation – something employers can’t risk. 
The costs of mental health action outweigh those of a few first aid boxes. 
 
Awareness is brilliant but action is essential 
 
Raising awareness is great – mental health is more documented now than ever before. But this can only go so far to breaking down the barriers surrounding mental health, much in the same way that creating noise around plastic in the ocean can only go so far to stopping the issue. 
 
The letter, which had backing from big names like Alistair Campbell and Len McCluskey, argued that cost should not be a consideration because spending money on improving workplace mental health is an investment. 
 
‘Each year, workplace mental health issues cost the UK economy almost £35 billion, with 15.4 million working days lost to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. But the cost is not just financial’ they said. 
 
Left untreated mental ill health impacts a person’s relationships with friends and family and ultimately their quality of life.’ 
 
Alistair Campbell was amongst the business leaders who signed the letter 
In fact, a person’s working environment can be directly responsible for their poor mental health. Stress, long hours and heavy workloads all play a part. In 2017 and 2018, almost 600,000 people in the UK reported work-related stress at a level they believed was making them ill. 
 
Furthermore, a 2018 study by Mind showed that over half of those struggling with a mental health issue had opened up to their employer about it. 
 
Awareness is brilliant but action is essential. We can’t put a plaster on depression or bandage up anxiety. People are more than happy to talk about their broken leg, yet a person with mental health difficulties will battle through their problems silently, suffering more so than the person with the affected limb. 
 
The stigma surrounding mental health is still strong enough that people won’t actively take steps to publicise their own mental health issues for fear of being ostracised. Instead, they’ll work themselves into exhaustion, underperforming and making mistakes. Or they’ll take it as sickness leave instead of tackling the problem together with their employers. Finally, they’ll leave, taking their expertise and training with them. 
 
When you consider the implications of poor mental health, it’s really not hard to understand why it costs the UK economy millions. 
 
The open letter called for a change in legislation. ‘We all have mental health just as we have physical health. So please enact a change in the law to reflect this’. 
 
One day, perhaps this will be a reality. But until that time, employers need to invest (and it really is an investment) in mental health training for the benefits of their employers. They need to create an environment where people feel comfortable opening up about their mental health and can take measured steps to improve their own wellbeing. 
 

Clearfocus Mental Health and Communications Training specialises in Business Skills, Conflict, Negotiation, Mental Health Training and Consultancy. Our clients range from small businesses through to large, corporate organisations with complex training requirements. Find out more here. 

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