The Thriving Minds conference highlighted the devastating economic consequences of failing to invest in mental health training.
Guests at the event, which was hosted by Thrive Law, a specialist employment law firm, heard that the annual cost to employers from failing to support staff with mental health problems was around £54bn.
Over half this cost was due to “presenteeism”, when people are less productive due to poor mental health.
The conference heard from speakers who supported the creation of a regional mental health czar with devolved powers to implement policies to improve mental health around Yorkshire.
The conference was told that the overall rate of workplace sickness since 2009 was down by between 15 to 20 per cent.
However, absences due to mental health problems over the same period had risen by five per cent.
Failure to support the rising numbers of staff with mental health problems also has an impact on the public finances. Billions of pounds are lost in tax revenue, benefits and NHS costs.
The conference, which was held at the Mansion in Roundhay, Leeds, heard that a number of major employers have trained their staff to become mental health first aiders.
The introduction of mental health first aiders could lead to a more engaged and productive workforce, the conference was told.
This, in turn, created a ripple effect that could make the UK’s economy more competitive and inclusive.
Founded by managing director Jodie Hill, Thrive Law supports policies to promote wellbeing at work.
Ms Hill has established a political campaign to make mental health first aiders compulsory in the workplace. The campaign is gaining national traction, with high-profile individuals such as Alastair Campbell endorsing it on social media. The event was told that a number of Yorkshire businesses had enjoyed economic benefits after training dozens of mental health first aiders.
Ms Hill said the conference aimed to focus on the human impact of failing to have policies that support people with mental health problems.
She added: “The ‘Thriving Minds’ conference was created to raise awareness of the importance of enabling both employers and employees to thrive in the workplace.
“The objective of the day is to empower business owners with the skills and tools that they need to create a good working culture that is focused on wellbeing and positive mental health.
“We need to fundamentally change the way we support our workforce and start to implement the recommended core standards which will enable both our team and business to thrive.”
The speakers included Fiona Devenney of Leeds Mind, who provided a 10 step tool kit to help employers improve the mental health of their staff.
She said: “It’s by employers and for employers. We take our leads from where you are at as employers. Everyone is on a journey. Some people are further along than others.
“We work with you to look at where exactly you’re at and where you aspire to be.
“You know your company and you know your staff. It’s not one size fits all, it’s about looking at your own cultures and your own internal cultures. It’s about safe people and not scary places.”
Ms Devenney added: “Young people today are more confident about talking about mental health, but there’s also a big generation who don’t feel comfortable about talking about mental health.
“So it’s about creating opportunities for people and making it safe for them to come forward.”
The Thriving Minds event was sponsored by Leeds-based creative start-up Research Retold, which helps academic researchers to present their findings in creative and engaging graphics.
Speakers at the conference included The Yorkshire Post’s deputy business editor, Greg Wright, event sponsor and founder of Research Retold, Mihaela Gruia, Fiona Devenney, manager at Leeds Mind and ex- England Sevens rugby captain and wellbeing advocate, Rob Vickerman.
Commenting on the Thriving Minds conference, Mr Vickerman said mental health was at the forefront of policies about wellbeing.
He added: “ Wellbeing is far more than a perception of ‘being well’. By opening up conversations and showing support and guidance to those who may need it , we will achieve more together.”