Supporting mental health in the workplace

Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 takes place this week from 13th to 19th May.  According to the NHS, one in four adults experience mental illness.  Working conditions and the workplace environment can have a huge impact on mental health whilst also influencing performance at work.

Chemical and laundry engineering specialist Christeyns firmly believes it is part of an organisations’ responsibilities to take a proactive, preventive approach to employee mental ill health and is fully supportive of the awareness week. During the course of the week the firm will further encourage conversations on mental health with a focus on a different mental health topic each day.

“In our business, health and safety is an absolute priority,” states Christeyns HR Manager Sarah Dufton. “Mental health wellbeing forms part of this agenda and is just as important as physical illness. As an employer, we have a large part to play in building awareness and understanding. Following a review last year of our mental health support offerings and policies, we have invested a considerable portion of our HR budget into this important area.”

There has been, and continues to be, a significant shift in the awareness and understanding of mental health and it is particularly prevalent in the mindset of the younger generation. We should now find a working population that are much more informed and empowered when it comes to discussing mental health and who expect to be supported.

“It is crucial that we ensure all members of our workforce are equally informed, and are able to understand and identify potential mental health issues,“ continues Sarah. “Although a lot of great work has been carried out in society to build awareness of mental health issues and their impact over recent years, we still, as individuals, tend to overlook or neglect our own mental health.”

Christeyns identified several training activities, resources, and assistance programmes that are now rolling out across the UK group of companies. The initial part of this rollout was to train volunteer mental health first aiders, (MHFAs), the first group completed training in November 2018 and a further ten individuals will undergo similar training next month.

The role of a MHFA in the workplace is to be a confidential point of contact for employees who are experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress. MHFAs are valuable in providing early intervention help for someone who may be developing a mental health issue.

“My reason for volunteering was really simple,” states Debbie Sproul in Payroll. “I have known quite a few people who have taken their own lives and if I could help prevent just one then for me it would be ‘job done’.  I believe there is still a taboo surrounding mental health and by having MHFA’s we can help to break down these barriers and show people it is okay to talk about what’s going on in their head.”

Following the completion of the MHFA training, Christeyns will launch a timeline to build awareness for everyone in the business, with enhanced training for line managers and a mental health manual will be issued outlining related policies, assistance programmes, summary facts and useful information. Every second management team briefing will also include a section on mental health, to keep the topic front of mind.

For many companies the challenge lies in bridging the gap between positive intent and meaningful action. Being aware of the issue and instigating open discussion is one thing but it is practical, actionable solutions that are required in order to gain results. Christeyns is totally committed to taking action, demonstrating this with well-laid plans that are already reaping benefits.  By the end of the year mental health will be a seamless part of company policy understood by all and not just a phrase used without context.

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