Government leadership brings mental health support to the top of the agenda

On 9 January 2017, prime minister Theresa May announced a package of measures that aim to improve mental health support in the UK at each stage of a person’s life, including in workplaces, schools, and the community.

As part of this wider reform, Lord Dennis Stevenson, a mental health campaigner, and Paul Farmer CBE, chief executive officer at charity Mind and chair of the NHS Mental Health Taskforce, will lead a review into mental health practices in the workplace, examining how best to support employees with mental health problems so that they can thrive and excel at work.

This will include the provision of tools to help employers of all sizes support employee wellbeing, and a review of recommendations around workplace discrimination on the grounds of mental health.

A key aspect of the review will be to share best-practice examples of mental health support for employees, with trailblazing organisations highlighting initiatives they have in place.

Learning from the experience of others will be particularly¬†valuable for smaller organisations, said Louise Ward, policy and standards director at the British Safety Council. While larger organisations may¬†have more resources to acquire expert advice and¬†invest in training, smaller businesses may not always have this opportunity.¬†‚ÄúIf [a small organisation] can get information from something that is working well somewhere else and employ that in [its] own organisation, it‚Äôs got a chance to make a real difference,‚ÄĚ Ward added.

These mental health reforms are also an opportunity to tackle the stigma associated with mental health, said Poppy Jaman, chief executive officer at Mental Health First Aid England and programme director at the City Mental Health Alliance.

Sharing mental health best practice may have been frowned upon in the past because employers may have been concerned about damaging their organisation’s reputation by being seen as a stressful or mentally unhealthy workplace. However, the increasing normalisation of mental health conversations is slowly shifting attitudes and workplace culture, to show best practice in this area as an asset rather than something to hide, added Jaman.

Yet challenges remain. Louise Aston, wellbeing director at Business in the Community (BITC), said: ‚ÄúMy concern is that the reforms as they stand don‚Äôt go far enough […] There is a growing movement of employers which are committed to this agenda and that are demonstrating leadership in this area, but there is also a massive group of unengaged employers that are [not]. So, in spite of the compelling business case and moral case and some real kind of proven good practice, the question is how do we engage those challenged sectors and individual [organisations]?”

The journey to fully embedding mental health into the organisational culture can take time. ‚ÄúThe key here is about really strong leadership, making a commitment to putting mental and physical health on a parity, and providing relevant training to all employees,‚ÄĚ added Aston.