Last week, an open letter to the Prime Minister signed by more than 50 business leaders, from some of Britain’s biggest companies, including PwC and Royal Mail, called on the Government to amend Health and Safety legislation. The letter, requesting Theresa May honours her manifesto pledge, asked for mental and physical first aid to be put on equal footing within the workplace and both be legal requirements.
Signed by industry leaders from banking, retail and education, as well as the mental health sector, the open letter was facilitated by experts from Mind and the MHFA England, who commented that the sheer number of companies involved was a positive indicator of change.
“Today’s open letter shows that business leaders clearly recognise the need to support their employees’ mental health in the same way they do their physical health.”-Fionuala Bonnar, Chief Operating Officer, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England
Despite this show of support, change couldn’t come sooner, as despite increasing numbers of people in high-profile positions coming forward, stigma still remains within the workplace. Less than half of those struggling with mental health issues have told their Employer and even fewer, at 30%, feel able to confide in their Line Manager. Having a mental health first aider within the office then is crucial.
WH Smith, one of the signatories of the open letter, have already implemented these changes within their own offices, with CEO, Stephen Clarke writing, “At WH Smith, our employees’ mental health is of equal importance to their physical health. Every one of our 14,000 employees has access to mental health support and we are proud to have the same number of Mental Health First Aiders across our business as we do Physical Health First Aiders.”
Having employers make the decision to put mental health at the forefront of policy is great, however as Natasha Devon, one of the campaigners behind the letter, states, “as an employer, we have a duty of care for our staff and whilst some employers are at the forefront of change, equalising their number of mental health first aiders with physical first aiders, we cannot afford to leave anyone behind.”
She suggests that cost is often an issue for those putting off changes, however in the long run mandatory placement of mental first aiders will actually cut costs. A statement that is backed up by the fact that mental health problems at work cost the UK economy nearly £35bn last year.
The Health and Safety Executive will shortly be updating its First Aid guidance, however when 15.4 million working days are lost to work-related stress, depression or anxiety, why wait to be told when you could take your own initiative?