In 2017/2018, 15.4 million working days were reported lost due to stress, depression or anxiety (Annual ONS/HSE Labour Force Survey questions)

With approximately one in four people experiencing a mental health condition each year, and many more people caring or supporting someone with a mental health condition, employers can no longer afford for mental health protections to be a ‘poor relation’ of the systems and processes which protect their staff’s physical health.  And when stress, depression or anxiety could each qualify as a disability protected under the Equality Act 2010 as having “a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”, having appropriate support in place for staff with a mental health condition is essential.

13-17 May is Mental Health Awareness Week, and marks the first anniversary of the ‘Where’s Your Head At?’ campaign by Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA).

The campaign has now launched a Workplace Manifesto, for employers and individuals to publicly commit to supporting mental health in their workplace, building an environment where people feel they can bring their whole selves to work, and not hide any mental health difficulties for fear of discrimination.

Included in that commitment is a recognition of mental health first aid as a provision which should be made alongside physical first aid. The ultimate aim of the campaign is to achieve a change in the law to ensure that mental health first aid is a requirement for employees.

Parity of mental health services has steadily crept up the political agenda in recent years, with the Government’s ‘Thriving at Work’ report published in 2017, the Health and Safety Executive updating their guidance last year to include mental health as part of an employer’s First Aid needs assessment, and a Parliamentary debate in January this year revealed a majority of MPs supported the MHFA campaign for legislative changes for mandatory mental health first aid provision in the workplace.

Although no requirements have yet been placed on employers, given the current levels of public and political interest in the issue, it’s quite possible that change is on the way. The Where’s Your Head At? Manifesto includes a commitment to developing an organisation wide ‘Mental Health at Work plan’. Such plans will not only help employers with practical HR management, but serve to start conversations and break down negative perceptions around mental health.

Anyone managing a mental health condition will feel its effects in every aspect of their life – and supporting someone with a mental health condition has its own stresses and strains. Good employers, seeking to build productive businesses, will recognise the value of taking action now to ensure their workplace is a healthy environment where all staff can achieve their full potential.