Poor mental health costs the UK between £73bn and £97bn each year and Jodie Hill, a Leeds-based employment and discrimination solicitor, believes new rules are needed to improve mental health at work.
Ms Hill, who is the managing director of employment and HR boutique practice Thrive Law, is calling for the law to be changed to require businesses to invest in training at least one employee to be a mental health first aider.
She said: “We have physical first aiders in the workplace, and yet mental health issues occur more often and cost more to businesses. The law is outdated in this area and needs urgent reform.”
Ms Hill has set up a Change.org petition which calls for it to become mandatory to have mental health first aiders in the workplace.
“The stark truth is that mental health issues have an enormous cost to the UK economy, businesses and employees,’’ Ms Hill said.
“I believe that if the law is changed to require businesses to invest in a mental health first aider, we would start to see a change to the mindset of the workforce and the management. It would also equip businesses to create and move towards a more productive, healthier and more effective workforce,” she added.
Around 15 out of every 100 people at work have a mental health condition, according to Government estimates. Each year around 300,000 people with a long-term mental health condition lose their job, which is much higher than the rate for people with a physical health condition.
A study from professional services firm Deloitte found that, when employers provided support for their workers’ mental health, the cost to employers and the Government went down.
Ms Hill, who is due to qualify as a mental health first aider next month, said she hoped employers would place the focus on preventing mental health problems from developing, which would improve the wellbeing of staff and save the company money.
She added: “The mental health first aider course only take two days and costs a few hundred pounds. The insight businesses will get into mental health problems and how to effectively manage these will be invaluable.”
Ms Hill said that companies which have a mental health first aider in place have seen an improvement in morale and productivity.
She added: “They report that the first aider can help with management and human resources in terms of how to communicate, as well as creating a more open environment so that employees feel they can raise this as an issue while still in work rather than going on long term sick. Everyone needs meaningful work – going off on long term sick only exacerbates mental ill health in the long term so a mental health first aider can help to identify this and assist in the effective management of those who are mentally ill.”
The petition can be found at https://www.change.org/p/steven-brine-mp-having-a-mental-health-first-aider-in-the-workplace-should-be-mandatory.
Ms Hill’s petition argues that a mental health first aider should be mandatory at work.
It notes that the current regulations require employers to satisfy various obligations in respect of equipment and facilities in the workplace and what should be done if an employee becomes ill or injured at work.
The petition says: “It’s clear from these regulations that employers must take first aid seriously and make a commitment to it in all workplaces.”
“The question must be asked why employers aren’t generally encouraged to extend the same attitude to mental health first aid.”