October’s World Mental Health Day introduced many positive initiatives within the UK’s approach to mental health. On 9th and 10th October, the Government held the first Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit in London, bringing experts and leaders from around the world to share their approaches to mental health, and build momentum on the issues surrounding mental health and tackling stigma. The Prime Minister marked World Mental Health Day by appointing the UK’s first Minister for Suicide Prevention, Jackie Doyle-Price. The Prime Minister also announced that the Samaritans helpline – which responds to more than 5 million requests for help a year – will remain free for the next four years.

While these are all positive steps towards tackling the growing issues of mental health and suicide, there is still a long way to go. The Chancellor has announced more money for mental health services, but the reality is that provision is already so stretched that any new money will be plugging the gaps in an already overloaded service. Around 4,500 people take their own lives each year in England, with suicide the highest cause of death among men under the age of 45. The Women and Equalities Committee has launched an inquiry into the mental health of men and boys, looking into what more can be done to tackle the increased risk.

We need to work together to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health and strengthen support networks available to those around us, particularly in the workplace. The cost of mental health and sickness absence to UK employers is £7.9 billion, according to Deloitte, with around 70 million working days lost annually. The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has spoken out on the benefits of having a Mental Health First Aider in the workplace, and the need for colleagues to collaborate to develop open, safe working environments.

Though the government is making progress in it’s approach to mental health, this needs to be reflected in the workplace – as demonstrated by the current corporate approach to the government. This week over 50 businesses – including Royal Mail, Channel 4 and WH Smith – wrote a letter to the Prime Minister urging her to prioritise manifesto pledges to act on mental health. Business leaders and unions are calling for mental health to be given the same parity as physical first aid in workplace legislation, stating employers’ duty of care includes “equalising the number of mental health first aiders with physical first aiders”. Mental Health First Aid said ensuring first aid support for mental health would greatly impact how health as a whole is perceived.

Managing an employee with mental health problems

Mental health problems are complex. It may be that an employee is in work struggling to cope, or may have got to the point that their GP has signed them off and they are now on sick leave. What is certain is that they will need a lot of support and understanding as well as the right treatment. Our experience is that while many employers are keen to help, they need specialist advice on the appropriate course of action.

If we can be of help with this matter, please get in touch.