Simon Blake: Charities can't afford to overlook the mental health of their staff

Failing to create supportive workplaces will inevitably have a negative impact on both employees and employers

Simon Blake
Simon Blake

World Mental Health Day is taking place this Wednesday, and the World Federation for Mental Health is asking everyone to think about young people’s mental health in our rapidly changing world.

Last week, I was privileged to start as chief executive of Mental Health First Aid England. Our vision is to normalise society’s attitudes to and behaviours around mental health by developing the skills we all need to look after our own and others’ wellbeing.

If your organisation is working with young people, or those who work with them, we have developed the #HandsUp4HealthyMinds toolkit to support World Mental Health Day. The toolkit is a free resource packed with practical tips, gifs and infographics to help people understand youth mental health, raise awareness and start conversations.

Looking wider than the youth theme of World Mental Health Day, we know that at least one in four people experience mental ill health at some point in their lives and, crucially, that too often they feel unable and fearful to talk about their mental health openly at work.

This has to change. Luckily there is now much more policy focus and public awareness about mental health than ever before. All employers, including those of us within the third sector, have to know and understand much more about mental health, and use that understanding as the basis for deliberate action to create cultures in the workplace where mental health is understood, employees are supported and managers know how to address employee mental health effectively in all that we do.

The cost of not doing so is self-evident. It is evident in the negative impact it has on individuals, office relationships, and in the economic cost through low morale, sickness and productivity. The latest research shows that mental ill health costs employers £35bn a year. More importantly, failing to create a mentally healthy and supportive workplace will inevitably affect our employees’ job satisfaction, morale, productivity, loyalty and, of course, their wellbeing.

Luckily, a lot of resources are available to help us.

For employers, MHFA England has produced a Workplace Wellbeing toolkit. This includes a "making the business case" presentation, which is a great way to start conversations about the importance of investing in mental health support in your workplace.

The recently launched Mental Health at Work Gateway is a new platform curated by Mind as part of the Heads Together initiative supported by the Royal Foundation. It pulls together resources from a range of different organisations to help employers across sectors, including the third sector, develop their own wellbeing strategies.

Building a culture that supports your employees’ mental health cannot and must not be left to chance, or fall down the priority list because we are a sector that cares. It requires deliberative action to build culture, awareness, understanding and skills, supported by policies and interventions that ensure employees can thrive and make the biggest difference for those we work with.

Simon Blake is the chief executive of MHFA England

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