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How to fit mental health into your health and safety policy

schedule 19th July 2019 by Carol Butler in Health and Safety

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Should Mental Health be part of your Health and Safety policy?

Last year the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) updated their first-aid guidance to include, amongst other things, a section about mental health in the workplace. It calls out to workplaces to ‘consider ways to manage mental ill health in your workplace which are appropriate for your business’. This inclusion represents a big leap toward acknowledging that mental health and physical health must be considered equally. It also emphasises the need for workplaces to consider people’s psychological needs when creating a safe work place, as well as include mental health in their health and safety policy. So, why is this so important?

Mental health and wellbeing in the work place

Consider these statistics:

  • Just 6% of companies have a mental health policy1
  • 71% of employees consider mental health to be a taboo subject at work1
  • 42% of people will rather state a different reason for being absent from work than report a mental health issue1
  • 7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions2
  • 89% of people with mental health problems feel that it impacts on their working life3
  • Just 13% of employees are comfortable talking about mental health3
  • In 2017/18, stress, depression or anxiety was the cause of 44% of all work-related ill health and 57% of all working days lost due to ill health4

As you can see, mental health is a significant issue in the work place, yet is still a taboo. This needs to change.

Legally, organisations’ employees have to complete compliance training, many which are health and safety courses. Though mental health courses aren’t a legal requirement, many believe they should be, as it is important that employees are aware of the impact of poor mental health, what signs to look out for in themselves and colleagues and what they can do to help and support each other. Including this training will not only increase awareness but also help make conversations about mental health easier as it will help remove the stigma – a stigma which is still strong, as shown by the some of the stats above.

There are numerous reasons which can cause mental health problems to develop at work. They could be developed by circumstances at work, such as stress, deadlines, time management, bullying and poor management. Or there can be circumstances outside of work, such as bereavement, divorce, a new baby, financial issues, or loneliness, which can spill over into work.

How can you help?

There are a number of ways in which you can help support mental health in the workplace.

Training and resources

A combination of training and resources will help increase mental health awareness throughout the company, as well as ensuring the development of confidence and skills required to approach and support someone. Not all employees will need the same level of training though. Some will only require a basic awareness course, but employees such as managers will also benefit from training in communication skills, which are vital when it comes to discussing mental health. These could include skills such as active listening, communication, dealing with conflict and having difficult conversations.

Occupational health

Occupational health focuses on both the physical and mental wellbeing of employees in the workplace and preventing work-related illness and injury. Occupational health professionals can work with organisations in different ways – large companies may have one that works in house, but smaller companies may employ an external provider. Depending on why they are required, they can call on specialists, such as physiotherapists, psychologists, ergonomic experts, or occupational therapists.

They are beneficial to organisations because they can provide an outside perspective and can help in many different areas. They can advise on different elements, such as:

  • recommend reasonable adjustments to the workplace for employees who need it
  • support health training and awareness within a company
  • provide advice and counselling

Mental health first aiders

Companies are now training staff to be mental health first aiders or champions, with some companies having as many mental health first aiders as they do first aiders. There are training courses available which teach how to spot signs, how to offer help and guide a person towards support. They aren’t training people to be counsellors or therapists, but they do teach important skills such as how to listen, reassure and respond.

Making room for these roles will speak volumes about a company’s commitment to mental health and their devotion to breaking down those stigmas and providing people with support. They will not only increase employees’ confidence regarding what needs to be done to support a struggling colleague, but will also provide a safe space for employees to address any issues, where before they may have felt unable to discuss them.

Support initiatives

Where it is essential to start implementing the above initiatives, there are other smaller ones you can implement as well; these will also make a difference and help create an environment where staff feel supported and cared for. These could include:

  • Encourage a healthier diet by providing free fruit
  • Encourage exercise and breaks by arranging lunchtime walks or wellbeing classes, such as yoga or meditation
  • Facilitate access to counselling
  • Encourage work/life balance, such as flexible working time
  • Provide an appropriate workplace setting. Open plan is common now, but it is important to create break out spaces, where people can retreat if they need a quiet place
  • Hold Time to Talk events, where people can chat about mental health
  • Bring in experts to discuss mental health
  • Provide relevant guides and advice, such as how to manage stress, time management, and how to improve sleep.

Click here to download our free time management guide.

If you would like to train your staff about mental health, our training courses will cover what you need. If you would like to speak to one of our consultants, please contact us at hello@virtual-college.co.uk.

Statistics sources:

1 Drewberry Insurance

2 Mentalhealth.org.uk

3 My Possible Self

4 HSE

Author: Carol Butler

Carol is an Instructional Designer who is passionate about creating meaningful content. Away from work, you’ll find her either reading, hiking or treading the boards at her local theatre.

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