Fresh concerns over how businesses use employees to support colleagues suffering from poor mental health has prompted new guidance for employers in the UK.
Released by the chartered body for health and safety professionals, the guidance aids businesses in designing detailed mental health systems and emphasises the need for mental health first aid (MHFA) to be incorporated into a well-developed support system for employees.
MHFA was set to be debated by MPs in Parliament this week, but the debate has been postponed until early 2019. The Government is expected to face calls to place MHFA on equal ground with physical first aid in official acknowledgement of its importance in the workplace.
However, The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) warns against relying too heavily on MHFA volunteers because they do not address the root causes of mental health issues. Concerns such as these were raised in response to research published by the University of Nottingham, which exposed significant issues with workplace implementation of MHFA.
IOSH Head of Advice and Practice, Duncan Spencer, suggested MHFA volunteers should simply be part of a much larger process.
“Good mental health and wellness at work should be governed by a whole-system approach where OSH professionals, HR, and all managers contribute.”
IOSH’s new guidance is split into two sections:
- Mental health in the workplace: benchmarking questionsis a simple tool to help organisations with the design of their mental wellness systems and asks benchmarking questions about workplace mental health and wellbeing support.
- Mental Health First Aid: workplace considerationsis an information sheet which considers the adoption and implementation of this intervention. It summarises some limitations and how ‘mental health first aiders’ (MHFAs) can be integrated into a wider system of support.
Professor Avril Drummond of the School of Health Sciences at the University of Nottingham expressed delight in IOSH’s efficiency in responding to the research and producing practical guidance and resources for the workplace.
“The bottom line is that mental health initiatives must be both top down and bottom up: they must be a whole organisation approach.”