Poppy Jaman explains why mental health is a growing issue for employers and describes how one big organization is doing something about it.

One in six UK employees will experience a mental health issue during their working life. One in four people in the UK experience a mental health condition in any one year and depression and anxiety affect 20 per cent of the UK working population.

It seems sensible that mental health first aid should be considered as important as physical first aid, both in the workplace and in society generally. Employers should train staff in mental health first aid so mental health issues can be better identified and those affected can be supported and signposted to appropriate treatment by trained employees.

Mental ill health covers a range of conditions, each with specific signs and symptoms. Mental health first aiders (MHFAiders) are trained to be aware of these and guide the affected person to relevant support. Mental health first aid and physical first aid should go hand in hand and all businesses should have employees able to provide support in both areas.

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Very sadly, in recent months the media has reported a number of high-profile people completing suicide – each as a result of poor mental health. These serve as stark reminders of the tragic consequences that mental ill health can have on an individual and those around them.

Raising awareness of mental health and the risk of suicide continues to be as important as ever, but much like physical first aid, the situations that an MHFAider might encounter are not always life-threatening. Put simply, if an employee breaks their arm in the workplace, the first point of call will be the trained physical first aider. If the same person showed signs of having a panic attack, who would be qualified to support them?

By training people in mental health first aid, we are teaching participants how to spot the signs and symptoms of the most common health conditions and how to guide the affected person to appropriate support. With over 103,000,000 people in the UK already MHFA trained, our mission is to train one in ten people in England to be qualified MHFAiders.

Sadly, mental health in the workplace is a growing issue, but one that employers are able to contribute to positively. Having staff appropriately trained so that they can help their colleagues, support them as necessary and point them to professional help can contribute to the overall well-being of both employees and businesses as a whole.

Dan Labbad is the CEO of international operations at leading international property and infrastructure group Lend Lease. He spoke at a recent leadership conference and put the issue of mental health firmly on the agenda. “Those working in the construction business are six times more likely to die from suicide as a result of depression than falling from a height,” said Mr Labbad.

He is certainly not alone in his view that construction companies should be investing far more in protecting and supporting the mental health of their employees. The Trade Union Congress TUC states in its Time to Change manifesto that: “Occupational stress should be given the same priority as injury prevention by employers.”

But what should the construction sector be doing to promote good mental health and how can it support employees when a mental health issue arises? Lend Lease has invested a significant amount of time and energy into working out how, as a leading international property and infrastructure group, it can provide meaningful mental health support to its workforce. Leading the way in the organization is the newly created Mental Health Working Group. This purpose-led group has recently started to roll out an internationally recognised mental health awareness training program called Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). This training has been funded by the Lend Lease Foundation program, which invests in its employees’ health and well-being.

Martin Coyd, Lend Lease’s regional head of environment, health and safety in Europe and head of the Mental Health Working Group, says, “The construction industry has a stereotypically macho reputation and, perhaps as a result, mental health has not been something that people have been prepared to discuss openly, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an issue. Working away from home, long hours, pressing deadlines, environmental conditions and high levels of physical exertion are all factors that we have recognized could contribute to a person’s stress level and mental health. That’s why we decided to invite employees to join the Mental Health Working Group.

“The reaction among staff to the launch of this initiative was tremendous.”

A fully qualified MHFA instructor himself, Coyd continues, “The introduction of Mental Health First Aid into our business is an important step in the right direction, because we are not only breaking down the stigma that is so often associated with talking about mental health, but we are providing a first point of call for someone who might be experiencing a mental health issue. So far, out of our 2,500 employees in the UK, we have 80 trained Mental Health First Aiders, with further training courses arranged. We have posters up on every floor in every Lend Lease office in the UK identifying who our qualified MHFAiders are and how to contact them.”

The Mental Health First Aid educational course teaches people how to identify, understand and help a person who may be developing a mental health problem. In the same way that we learn physical first aid, MHFA teaches people how to recognize those crucial warning signs of mental ill health, provide help on a first aid basis and effectively guide others in the right direction towards support. By offering MHFA training, Lend Lease is sending out a message to its employees that mental health is not something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about and that the earlier someone is supported, the more positive their recovery will be.

With more than 80 MHFAiders throughout the organization, Lend Lease is encouraging its employees to look out for one another and offer support when it is needed. The model adopted by Lend Lease is one of cultural change and is a hearts and minds exercise. It is not about allocating a person to become responsible for all matters relating to mental health but about educating and increasing mental health literacy throughout the organization so that the emotive subject is no longer taboo.

Along with the continued roll-out of MHFA in the UK, Lend Lease has also introduced a mandatory stress awareness course for every employee. First Assist, the company’s Employee Assistance Program is also promoted widely as a fully funded support service for those who may wish to speak to someone in a more anonymous setting.

Lend Lease is recognised externally for best practice in this area and was the only company in its sector to be included within the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) report Getting Better: Workplace Health as a Business Issue. This report was highlighted for its approach to health and well-being, including mental health as one of its six focus areas. Further to this, Lend Lease is one of the founding members of the City Mental Health Alliance – a coalition of organizations that have come together to improve mental health in the City of London. The CBI report said, “Sound physical and mental health are essential both to Lend Lease’s employees and the communities in which they operate. The firm is developing a mental health management strategy which includes detailed impact measurement.”

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