Should Mental Health Awareness Training be mandatory?
February 10, 2022

Should Mental Health Awareness training be mandatory?

Did you know that 1 in 4 adults in the UK experience mental illness each year? As things currently stand, it is not deemed necessary for work establishments to appoint a mental health first aider at work. In 2018 The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) changed their guidelines to suggest that employers considered implementing mental health first aid training as well as physical first aid training at work.

By Emily Roach, Paws in Work guest blogger.

The main question is, if physical first aid training is mandatory at work, then why isn’t mental health first aid training? Just like physical health, poor mental health can affect a person’s life in a multitude of ways, which can interfere with their ability to work and carry out other everyday tasks.

When was physical first aid made mandatory in the UK?

As of 1981, The Health and Safety Regulations made it mandatory that employees from companies of all proportions were provided with adequate equipment and knowledge for performing first aid, should a person become physically injured or unwell at work. This is done through professional physical first aid training courses, designed to educate physical first aiders on how to deal with a variety of scenarios.

Does company size matter?

Regardless of the company size, facilities to deal with physical needs are required. It isn’t a legal requirement for all companies, especially those on the smaller and lower risk scale to have a trained first aider. The minimum requirement, however, is a first aid kit provided on-site along with an appointed member of staff whose role is to seek further help if necessary. All employees must be aware of the first aid process.

Why mental health first aid should be compulsory?

According to findings by The Health and Safety Regulations, in 2020-2021, anxiety, depression, and work-related stress contributed to 50% of ill work-related health. Just let that sink in! You might also be shocked to discover that an estimated 822,000 people were affected by work-related stress. Trends over prior years had shown that figures were set to increase. These findings were pre-pandemic, suggesting that covid had little or no influence over the latest statistics. This shows that there has been a clear decline in mental health in the workplace beforehand, making it a crisis of its own.

Mental health first aiders are trained to spot early signs that fellow colleagues could be suffering with a mental health decline. It is comforting for employees to know that there is a point of contact available at work, should they wish to speak about how they’re feeling. It also might be easier for them to speak to someone outside of their household, alternatively, they may live alone and feel that they don’t have sufficient support.

Being a mental health first aider is a potentially life-saving skill, just as it is learning physical first aid. MHFAs can also take these skills into everyday life as well as the workplace, helping family members and friends. You can find out more about the fantastic work MHFAs do and why every workplace could benefit from one here.

Implementing legal requirements for mental health first aid at work would be one step closer to solving this issue. Fortunately, the UK is increasingly close to making mental health first aid at work obligatory rather than a recommendation.

Are there any limitations to Mental Health First Aid Training?

Some may suggest that mental health first aid training may not be enough alone to help individuals with what they’re going through. Mental health first aid is by no means a way for employees to replace mental health professionals such as psychiatrists and counsellors. Mental health first aid training is, however, a great stepping stone in guiding people to seek the help they need, and at least encourage them to start a difficult conversation. Unfortunately, opening up about mental health issues at work is still stigmatised today.

There’s also a question of how much information the MHFA has retained from their courses and how they implement what they’ve learned. Therefore, refresher courses are available for MHFAs to brush up on their knowledge, ensuring they deliver the highest quality of support they can.

Should mental health awareness training be mandatory Aspect Capital 40

Which countries are leading the way with mental health at work?

Countries across the globe such as Germany, New Zealand, Iceland, Japan, Spain, and Scotland are either trialling or have adopted the new format of a 4-day working week. The UAE is changing to a 4.5-day working week, finishing earlier on a Friday afternoon.

Scotland has recently looked at the prospect of a shorter working week after a report concluded that 80% of people preferred the idea of a 4-day week, with the aim to improve their wellbeing. This is to help employees with maintaining a healthy work-life balance, as well as improving their wellbeing, along with their output and productivity.

Other benefits of a shorter working week include:

  • Prevents a higher turnover of staff and employee burnout
  • Shifts the perspective to quality of work produced rather than the number of hours worked
  • Employees take fewer sick days
  • Reduces environmental impact e.g., if employees drive to work
  • Increase in sales
  • Achieve the same results in fewer hours, allowing employees to engage in leisurely activities outside the workplace
  • Boosts the general mood and state of employee’s mental health at work

There is, however, some speculation of the benefits of a 4-day working week as workers in the healthcare sector can’t partake due to existing staff shortages. Some employees prefer the structure of a 5-day working week, and the 4-day week structure can become expensive for employers if employees need to claim overtime, as demonstrated in Iceland.

Overall, the pros of a 4-day working week outweigh any cons, for the sake of happier employees and a higher quality of mental health in the workplace. This could be the answer for reducing the amount of employees off sick with mental health or even leaving their roles due to mental health reasons. It will be interesting to see if the UK takes inspiration from other countries and follows suit!

Become an MHFA with us.

Want your team to become mental health first aiders? Enrol them to one of our courses today! Our courses take you through the foundations of mental health, and being aware of early signs, becoming a mental health champion and finally qualifying as a mental health first aider. All courses are MHFA England accredited and available online. We can’t wait to work with you and help you to transform your workplaces and the future of mental health care.

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