Mental health issues account for over 15 million sick days per year – what can businesses do to support employees?

It is a shocking statistic that over 10 million adults within the UK will experience a mental health issue this year; roughly equating to 1 in 4 adults. Recent calls have been made to improve the awareness and handling of mental health in the workplace. This comes after a recent UK Workplace Wellbeing study which named mental health in the workplace as the second biggest challenge to face employers in the next five years. The reality is that in some cases, there is a requirement for employers to assist their employees with mental health conditions, if the legal definition of disability is met under the Equality Act 2010. Thus, it is important that employers are aware of their legal responsibility to their employees, not less their moral duties in order to foster a productively efficient and supportive community within the workplace.

How can mental health issues affect an organisation?

Mental health related issues, such as stress, depression and anxiety, account for almost 16 million days off sick per year (ONS, 2017). As such, they cost UK employers an estimated £26 billion per year, equating to an average of £1,035 per employee per year. Not only is this a significant direct cost to the business, but regular absences can also indirectly affect productivity and staff morale. Therefore, it is important that employers are able to deal with this effectively and efficiently, in a supportive manner which amounts to the least disruption within the organisation.

Mental health first aid training

Mental health first aid (MHFA) is the mental health equivalent to a physical first aid course, and has been received by over 2 million people around the world since its introduction in Australia in 2001. It comprises an internationally recognised two-day training course which aims to educate people on recognising symptoms of mental health and responding to them with adequate support. Furthermore, providers of the course also offer shorter basic mental health awareness sessions lasting a few hours. The training equips employees with the knowledge and resources to keep both themselves and their colleagues healthy, whilst encouraging a positive and long-term cultural change within the business to become more open surrounding mental health, and thus stop preventable issues from emerging. 

The Mental Health First Aid website also offers free downloadable resources for mental health in the workplace, ranging from documents on triggers and signs of mental health to an organisation approach model. The ACAS website also offers a free eLearning module on ‘mental health awareness for employers’.

Practical steps

Organisations should be encouraged to review their current first aid policy and procedures, particularly in the absence of any individual mental health provisions, to ensure that they are meeting the expectations and obligations of their employees. A recent report by Business in the Community recommended mental health first aid training for managers in all organisations to ensure they feel capable and assured to respond as the first point of support.

What next?

In January 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May commissioned a review into mental health support in the workplace.  Prime Minister announced a comprehensive package of measures to transform mental health support in schools, workplaces and communities. It includes a new partnership with employers to improve mental health support in the workplace. Despite this, it appears that measures should be put in place by employers to protect themselves from disability discrimination claims and to retain an inclusive, supportive and efficient workforce.