As companies increase their understanding of wellbeing in the workplace and the role of the Mental Health First Aider, there is a flood of new apps that touch on mindfulness – meditation – breathing and tracking your mental health. In fact it can sometimes feel a little overwhelming. What is good, what is right, what is essential and what is a gimmick?
This question was posed to me by Michelle from the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (the DIO is part of the MOD – Ministry of Defence), as she sought to train her staff.
In this article I outline the factors that I recommend every employer needs to take into consideration when they are deciding how to approach culture change and the provision of mental health training.
Please understand, my view is from a training angle. I believe we need to know and understand our own mental health journey, in order to then engage with the best ‘healthcare’ plan.
There are certain things we can do to help prevent physical illness:
- Eating well will boost our immunity and keep our weight in check.
- If you avoid dangerous sports and activities you may well avoid the risk of breaking bones.
Of course, you can’t avoid physical illness in life altogether. And it’s the same with mental health (see 3. Self Care below). There will be times when you’re feeling robust in your mental health, and there will be other times when you have the equivalent of a common cold, a broken bone or maybe a more long-lasting issue.
So what can we do to help prevent mental illnesses?
Since 1990, there has been a steady ‘norm’ that mental health issues are impacting 1:4 people in the UK at any one time (25% of the population). Through the pandemic we have seen this statistic rise, with 39% of the UK population now sharing that they have been impacted by a deterioration in their mental health. I would however argue that maybe even more of us have experienced changes in our mental health during the pandemic months.
If you look at the statistics around suicide, there were 5,691 suicides in England and Wales in 2019. In the 6 months between April and September 2020, the London Ambulance Service responded to just shy of 7,000 suicide crisis calls in the London Borough alone.
The pandemic has had an impact on the nation’s mental health. So how have you been affected?
Let’s come back to the notion of good days and bad. Have you been having more good days, or more bad days? If you’ve been having more bad days, can you identify a single cause, or has life just got on top of you?
You may have heard that there’s a concern among professionals that mental health could be the next pandemic. The pandemic has impacted various demographics in society in different ways. Here are a few examples:
The impact of the pandemic on our young people
Pre COVID-19, 50% of adults with diagnosed mental health issues were diagnosed before the age of 15. 75% of adults were diagnosed before the age of 18. It’s clear that a significant proportion of mental health issues develop during childhood and continue into adulthood. However, mental health services for young people are currently over-subscribed and under-funded. Many young people are not receiving the help they need. This could create a compounded effect as they move into adulthood, without receiving the right support.
The impact of the pandemic within our homes
During COVID-19, there has been a significant increase in reports of domestic abuse, relationship break up, loneliness and isolation. We’ve also seen the increase in suicide, as mentioned above. Many people found lockdown unbearable for these reasons. How can we support people through their experiences of the last 2 years?
The impact of the pandemic within our workforces
Pre COVID-19, 60% of the UK’s workforce had never worked from home. Post COVID-19, only 9% of the workforce want to return to the 9-5, 5 days a week in the office monotony. Could an enforced return to the office create overwhelm, stress and anxiety in our workforces? We need to find a new way of working that accommodates both home working and the office environment.
Bringing me back to the original question posed to me…. What quality mental health training is available for our staff?
The Keys to Prevention
We’re all familiar with the phrase, “prevention is better than cure.” Now is the time to open up the conversation to find ways to prevent mental illnesses in our lives. How do we do that? How do we change the culture of mental health in the workplace?
Changing the culture around mental health in an organisation requires us to have a better understanding of how our mental health is fluid. It changes due to situations, circumstances, and life experiences. A great place to start with education around mental health is through a training course. Aon hour course teaches us what to look out for in those around us. It helps us to consider what you might be experiencing yourself. And it gives you an idea of what help is available and how to access that help.
If you want a deeper knowledge and understanding of mental health illnesses then the MHFA England framework is great (1 MHFAider to every 10 employees) and there are other providers of this kind of training too.
If you’re assessing how to budget for training and you don’t yet have a MHFA framework in place, meaning support isn’t currently available, or improvements could be made. It is becoming unacceptable within the workplace to have just the bare essentials, we actively need to increase our preventive measures. An analysis by Deloitte found that for every £1 invested in mental health prevention you would see a £5 Return On Investment. Implementation is therefore not only beneficial for individuals, but for businesses and the wider economy.
We need to learn how to look after our own mental health. With my physical health I can become a member of my gym with the aim to lose weight. But if I focus on the wrong activities, I won’t achieve my aim. It’s the same for my mental health. If I don’t know what I’m trying to achieve to improve my mental health, I can spend hours engaging in the wrong activities. We also need to be aware that the weather and the seasons can have an impact on our mental health.
What’s right for your people
If you’re looking at this article and asking yourself what are the first steps, just like Michelle was, here are the suggestions I offered.
- Create a good base of MHFAiders – 10 MHFAiders for every 100 employees is an investment of around £3000+VAT
- The best way to change a culture is to educate everyone. This doesn’t have to be daunting and can be achieved for as little as £1500 + VAT per 100 staff.
Make full use of online training available
Talk to a range of suppliers, really explain your needs and find out how they will realistically be able to meet them
Michelle settled on a mix of these offerings. What will you chose?
1 “Mental health and employers: Refreshing the case for investment” January 2020,
About the author
Peter Larkum is an experienced mental health speaker, award-winning Mental Health First Aid instructor, and creator of Mentality. For over 10 years, he has trained tens of thousands of people to help reduce the stigma and discrimination that surrounds mental health illness. Peter was awarded ‘Excellence in Training’ for his work as a MHFA instructor.
His client list is vast, including HSBC, Balfour Beatty, Experian, University of Southampton, Utilita, Skanska and several government departments. With a background in youth work Peter has the unique ability to
command a room of global corporate managers or engage a group of young people with his infectious enthusiasm, sensitivity, and humour. He can be contacted directly through :peterlarkum.com/contact