Mental health first aid should be mandatory in every workplaceIvy Madziva
Mental health first aid should be mandatory in every workplace, business leaders tell Theresa May
Heads of Royal Mail and WH Smith among those calling on prime minister to make good on commitment to put psychological support in health and safety legislation.
Economic cost of unmet mental health problems could be as high as £99bn ( Getty Images )
Theresa May should ensure “mental health first aid” is available in every workplace alongside staff trained to respond to basic injuries, according to a letter backed by British businesses.
Royal Mail, WH Smiths, Alan Sugar and management consultants PwC are among more than 50 companies asking the prime minister to fulfil her manifesto pledge to update health and safety regulations and put mental and physical conditions on equal footing.
They warn that the current burden of anxiety, stress and depression in the workplace carries an “astronomical cost” to the economy, but an untold human cost on individuals and their relationships.
“As an employer, we have a duty of care for our staff and whilst some employers are at the forefront of change and equalising their number of mental health first aiders with physical first aiders, we cannot afford to leave anyone behind,” the letter says.
“Cost cannot be a reason for objections because in the long run it is inevitable that making mental health first aid in the workplace mandatory will save money.
“Success will ensure that employees everywhere can access a trained staff member to receive initial support and guidance if they are dealing with a mental health issue at work.
“Success will ensure every employee has the right to a mentally healthy environment.
Crucially it will also mean we can “finally break the stigma of mental health in the workplace.”
The campaign, launched by Mental Health First Aid England, estimates failing to address these issues costs the UK economy more than £35bn a year from 15.4 million days lost to anxiety, stress and depression.
However an independent review commissioned by Theresa May last year suggests the cost could be three times higher, up to £99bn, when accounting for the 300,000 people with long-term mental health conditions who are laid off every year.
While Theresa May has said she will introduce new legislation to protect against this for schools and employers there has been little progress on the latter.
More than 865 employers have already signed the Time to Change pledge to take mental health conditions more seriously at work. However the first aid campaign shows it is not enough to leave it up to businesses discretion and argues all employees to have equal entitlement to support.
“This is just one part of improving approaches to workplace mental health, but it represents an important step forward,” Fionnuala Bonnar, chief operating officer of Mental Health First Aid.
“Ensuring that first aid support is there for the millions of people who struggle with their mental health every year will make a big difference to how we all think about our health as a whole.”
Stephen Clarke, chief executive of WH Smith, added: “We are calling for this legislative change, alongside many other leading employers, as we firmly believe that everyone should have access to first aid support for their mental health regardless of where they work.”
Earlier this year, a study by the charity Mind revealed that almost half of UK workers have experienced a mental health problem at their current job.
A survey of more than 44,000 employees showed that only half of the 48 per cent who had experienced poor mental health had talked to their employer about it.
Mind said the findings suggested as many as one in four workers are struggling in silence with problems such as anxiety, low mood and stress.
A government spokesman said: “We have been clear that establishing parity between physical and mental health is a priority for this government, and we want to ensure that people with mental health conditions have the opportunity to progress in the workplace and achieve their potential.
“That’s exactly why we’re taking forward all 40 recommendations of the independent Stevenson Farmer Review of mental health and employers.
“The Health and Safety Executive will shortly be updating its First Aid guidance to help employers better understand the need to consider mental health alongside physical health.”
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