Therapist sitting on sofa with a notebook listening to a patient: mental health in the workplace

Mental health first aid in the workplace

Promoting mental health first aid in the workplace

Mental health issues in the workplace are common. Data published in November 2023 by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) showed that of the 1.8mn people suffering from a work-related illness in 2022–23, almost half had stress, depression or anxiety caused by their jobs.1 These conditions were responsible for the loss of 18mn working days  during the period.2 According to research, mental illness costs business £101bn a year.3

As an employer, you can play a crucial role in promoting good mental health and supporting staff who experience mental health problems. You have a ‘duty of care’ which means you must do all you reasonably can to support your employees’ mental health, safety, and wellbeing, including:4

  • making sure employees can work safely and healthily
  • protecting employees from discrimination, for example, making sure reasonable adjustments are made for disabled employees
  • carrying out risk assessments.

Introducing a mental health first aider in the workplace is a proactive step. It emphasises their critical role in recognising signs of poor mental health and providing the necessary support.

The HSE has recently published a revised version of L74: First Aid at Work: The Health and Safety (First-aid) Regulations 1981: Guidance on Regulations to include mental health. In its release, the HSE highlighted that the update emphasises employers’ responsibilities to “take account of employees’ mental health in their first-aid needs assessment.”5

How to create a mentally healthy workplace

1. Recognise the signs

Mental health issues, encompassing a broad spectrum of mental health conditions, can manifest in various ways in the workplace, including changes in behaviour, mood swings, decreased productivity, and increased absenteeism. Train select staff to recognise these signs of mental health issues and respond appropriately to support mental health, reduce stigma, and enhance workplace wellness.

2. Identify and assess mental health risks

Conduct risk assessments to identify potential mental health hazards in the workplace. This may involve evaluating workloads, organisational culture, and the impact of job demands on employees' mental wellbeing.

3. Destigmatise mental health

Creating a culture where mental health is openly discussed and supported reduces stigma. Employees should feel comfortable seeking help without fear of judgment. Training sessions and workshops can help raise awareness and normalise discussions around mental health. Addressing mental ill health, emphasising the importance of destigmatising conditions ranging from stress and anxiety to more severe issues like self-harm, depression, psychosis, and thoughts of suicide is crucial.

4. Provide supportive resources

Ensure employees can access resources such as counselling services, employee assistance programs (EAPs), and mental health hotlines. Having readily available support and early intervention can make a significant difference in managing mental health crises.

5. Train mental health first aiders 

Like physical first aiders, having designated mental health first aiders in the workplace can be invaluable. Mental health first aiders are trained to provide initial support to someone experiencing a mental health crisis and guide them toward professional help . Ensure select employees undergo comprehensive aid training to become proficient mental health first-aiders. 

6. Promote positive work-life balance

Promoting a positive work-life balance is essential in preventing burnout and poor mental health outcomes among employees.  Flexible working arrangements, regular breaks, and promoting hobbies and interests outside work could contribute to a healthier workforce.

7. Address workplace stress

Identifying and addressing areas that can lead to work-related stress can prevent mental health issues from arising. This may involve reducing workloads, improving communication channels, and adopting a supportive work environment. Ensuring your employees can access timely support is crucial in reducing workplace stress and its impact on mental health. 

8. Create mental health policies

Develop clear workplace policies and procedures related to mental health. These policies should be readily available to employees and outline how mental health issues will be addressed, as well as confidentiality measures and employee resources.

9. Encourage self-care

Promoting and helping to enable self-care practices among employees is crucial to ensuring individuals can maintain their wellbeing and mental health. This includes encouraging regular exercise, healthy eating, adequate sleep, and mindfulness techniques.

10. Monitor and evaluate

Regularly monitor the effectiveness of your mental health initiatives and adjust as necessary. Collecting employee feedback and tracking key metrics such as absenteeism rates can help assess the impact of these efforts and identify opportunities for improvement.
The Mental Health Foundation has developed an employer checklist for creating mentally healthy workplaces.6  This includes a range of aspects, including:

  • Valuing mental health and wellbeing as core assets of your organisation.
  • Supporting the development of compassionate and effective line management relationships.
  • Address discrimination.
  • Valuing the diversity and transferrable skills that live experience of mental health problems bring and support disclosure.

Prioritising mental health in the workplace is beneficial not only for employees' wellbeing but also for the organisation's overall success. By implementing comprehensive initiatives for mental health first aid in the workplace, you can create a supportive environment where employees feel valued, productive, and resilient in facing challenges.

Our employment law and mental health myth-busters guide aims to debunk myths surrounding mental health and promote a culture of support in the workplace. It highlights the critical importance of prioritising mental health and offers practical strategies for employers and employees to create a mentally healthy work environment.