Don’t ask your staff to become mental health experts

Don’t ask your staff to become mental health experts

It is a real positive that employers and society in general now talk openly about issues around mental health.

An ever-growing number of businesses are seeking the advice of specialists such as FOHCUS to put in place effective strategies that provide their staff with the right support when they need it.

The businesses benefit because they are taking active steps to manage the wellbeing of their employees creating happy and, in turn, more productive workers.

Mental health is the third biggest cause of absence in the workplace after stress and ill health. Alongside this, you have the issue of ‘presenteeism’ which, according to the Centre for Mental Health, accounts for 1.5 times more lost productivity than absences.

Mental health associated absences cost UK employers more than £25billion a year – equating to more than £1,000 per employee.

Some businesses now have their own mental health first aiders. Mental health first aid is the mental health equivalent of physical first aid. The objective is to have designated employees in your business with the skills and confidence to spot the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues and effectively guide a person towards the right support.

Those last few words about ‘guiding a person towards the right support’ are vital.

What a business must never do is place too much responsibility or expectation on the company’s mental health first aider.

They are not trained medical practitioners and therefore it is essential that the individual and the wider business appreciate exactly what the role of the mental health first aider is.

The job of the mental health first aider is to spot an issue and escalate it as necessary to the right people.

In the first instance, this could be to HR if such a function exists in the business. The next call should almost certainly be to the employee’s family and, if this is not possible, then to their GP or A&E.

Companies sometimes, wrongly, have the view that A&E is not an option if the person hasn’t suffered an accident, but it is absolutely the right option if you want to get the employee into the arms of medical professionals at the earliest opportunity.

Every business should have a mental health procedure just as we all have a fire drill process.

People panic when there is a potential mental health situation in the workplace and think they should do things that they are simply not trained to do. You wouldn’t treat someone who has suffered a broken ankle, so why treat someone showing signs of a mental health issue any differently.

The key is to put in place a robust mental health strategy in which everyone knows their role. Perhaps the most important element – and the one we work with most with employers – is line manager training.

They need to be confident in understanding what to look for and the right questions to ask.

For example, if someone who is usually the life and soul of the party suddenly changes personality, then it might be an early warning sign that something is not right.

Companies and organisations that put in place effective mental health strategies are reaping the rewards in lots of different ways.

This includes improved productivity, increased staff engagement, reduced presenteeism and sick leave, greater compliance with Government legislation, improved staff retention and, most importantly of all, a happier and healthier workforce.

  • For a free initial consultation about your company’s mental health strategy, please contact or call our Merseyside team on 0151 601 2444 or our Lancashire/Cumbria team on 01524 844011.

FOHCUS has seven offices across the North West region including Liverpool, Wirral, Lancaster, Wigan, Barrow, Garstang and Ellesmere Port – where we are able to hold appointments with clients.