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East Midlands Chamber’s mental health first aider

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week (10-16 May 2021), East Midlands Chamber’s director of resources and mental health first aider Lucy Robinson explains how businesses can help their employees to cope with the huge disruption brought on to their lives over the past 14 months.

The official Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 poster

The data behind mental health epidemic

There’s no doubt the situation we’ve found ourselves in over the past 12 months, and counting, has had a significant impact on people’s mental health.

According to the most recent survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the proportion of people experiencing some form of depression doubled from one in 10 to one in five between March and June last year.

Further ONS research shows that as the labour market shocks associated with coronavirus have been felt more by young people and the lowest paid – people aged under 30 and those with household incomes under £10,000 were around 35% and 60%, respectively, more likely to be furloughed than the general population – so have the mental health effects.

Those most likely to experience some form of depression during the pandemic have been adults aged 16 to 39, female, unable to afford an unexpected expense or disabled.

Other impacts have been evident in anxiety levels, which reached their highest level since wellbeing data started being collected in 2011 – with financial pressures, struggles to maintain pre-pandemic physical activity levels and an inability to enjoy normal social wellbeing all playing their part.

Employee mental health concerns

For workers, particularly those who have been forced to do their job remotely, they have been thrust into particularly alien territory.

Three in five UK employees had never worked from home before the pandemic, according to a survey of more than 13,000 workers by employee reward platform Perkbox – but now just 9% want to return to the office full time.

It also found, however, that 93% of UK workers have faced new wellbeing challenges during the past year.

While we don’t yet know the full impact from Covid-19 on people’s physical and mental wellbeing, many reports suggest these issues are set to increase, rather than decrease.

Perhaps we’re currently in a “fight” situation, where we are using our adrenaline to keep us going.

What happens when the situation becomes more manageable if we are not aware and being supported – will we turn to “flight” instead?

We can’t deny Covid-19 has been stressful and traumatic for many people and psychologists are reporting this could lead to PTSD. While this may only be in the most severe of cases, we absolutely need to take mental health seriously, especially now.

What can we be doing as employers?

Some organisations may view looking after their people as being something nice to do, an add-on to their main purpose but not a top priority.

However, research shows the correlation between caring for people in a great working environment and productivity – not to mention a reduction in absences and the ability to attract and retain key people.

Research from Deloitte demonstrated a return on investment of at least £5 to every £1 spent on employee wellbeing programmes. Zurich Insurance Group, meanwhile, is suggesting that as people feel more concerned about moving jobs due to the current economic climate, looking after their health is an investment the company should make.

So as employers, we have a duty to look after the people that work within our organisation.

Resources are available

This could be as simple as sharing information, such as Able Futures’ guide to mental health support for people at work, to implementing wellbeing schemes with providers like East Midlands Chamber patron Westfield Health.

Training up some colleagues to be mental health first aiders, and ensuring your managers are equipped to have conversations and signpost employees to the right place, would set the right tone within a business.

The Mental Health Productivity Pilot, funded by the Midlands Engine, was recently launched to support employers across the region and may be your first port of call.

But I believe the most important thing of all is to have a trusting culture where people feel safe to inform HR, their manager or a colleague of an issue they may have, rather than keeping it to themselves.

Mental health workplace resources

The three-year, pan-regional project, funded by the Midlands Engine, signposts businesses to established initiatives that can help employees’ mental health, while companies can sign up to other pilots for trilling new workplace interventions.

Leicester-Shire and Rutland Sport (LBS) offers an accreditation scheme for employers across Leicestershire and Rutland that want to take a lead in supporting staff wellbeing.

The charter is a step-by-step process that includes training and workshop opportunities, a tracker for monitoring physical activity levels, wellbeing tips, and access to a workplace health needs assessment tool for identifying key priority areas.

MHFA England has a series of resources for workplaces, including information on mental health first aiders, a mental health and wellbeing employer checklist, weekly wellbeing check-up, and guidance for line managers and mentors.


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