This week we saw almost 200,000 signatures presented to the government to change the law to ensure that each business has a mental health first aider onsite alongside their physical first aiders. To me, this makes complete sense. We all have mental health; we have periods of good health and we may have periods of being unwell, but whilst we would be perplexed by anyone who ignores a physical health problem, such as a slipped disc, the flu or diabetes, it seems common practice to try and ignore mental health illnesses.
We invest huge amounts of energy trying to hide mental illness, putting up a pretense that everything is fine; that we are not crumbling inside whilst trying to retain a socially acceptable exterior. It’s that classic stiff upper lip from generations past that still haunts us today and discourages us from speaking out.
For too long our mental health has been sidelined at work. The office was no place for the messy, complex matter of our emotions. Whenever someone dies of suicide, we say how tragic it is, how desperately sad that someone could feel that that was their only option. Yet we don’t always display the same empathy to those who are suffering from depression. We don’t take it seriously enough, until the outcome is fatal.
If we don’t feel safe to open up about our mental health, than we’re unlikely to confide in anyone and then unlikely to get the help we need. Evidence shows that if mental illness is treated early, the individual is much more likely to make a full recovery, which is a win, win for employers and employees. But if our colleagues in the workplace don’t feel confident to have a conversation with us about our mental health then it leaves us in a position where we feel we have to keep it to ourselves. This is why having mental health first aiders in the workplace is so essential. Knowing what signs and symptoms to look out for, how to assess whether someone is suicidal and how to approach someone who you suspect may have a mental illness, are key skills in getting people the support they need.
You may have heard statements like this; “Our ancestors survived world wars but now Gemma from accounts is having a breakdown in the corner because the photocopier is jammed again. What is the world coming to?” or “We never had mental health training and we were just fine.” Antiquated attitudes towards mental health have no place in the workplace. Mental health is complex. There is not always a straight forward cause or explanation and many find this hard to grasp. But there is likely to be more than what meets the eye. Those who have received mental health first aid training will be more likely to feel comfortable approaching someone and having a genuine, non-judgmental conversation in these scenarios.
The issue will be taken to parliament to be debated later this year. No doubt it will be a while until we know the result but gathering this week at the Houses of Parliament to see this being presented to the government was inspiring and hopeful to say the least.
Suicide rates are too high to ignore this problem. Why wait until it (hopefully) becomes a legal requirement to have a mental health first aider in the workplace. It is your duty as an employer to look after the health and safety of your employees and this includes mental health. With the mounting pressures of our modern workplaces and lifestyles, it seems like the sensible option to put more preventative strategies in place.
It’s not too late to sign the petition to make mental health first aiders compulsory in workplaces. To sign visit the website here: http://www.wheresyourheadat.org
To enquire about Mental Health First Aid training contact us here.