Mental health first aid: 10 reasons every employer should invest in mental health

Personnel Today, 10 October 2016

Today is World Mental Health Day, and Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England is calling on employers to find out how they can support the mental wellbeing of staff.

Mental ill health is the third biggest cause of absence in the workplace. In 2014-15, stress accounted for 35% of all work-related ill-health cases and 43% of all working days lost due to ill health (HSE, 2015).

Added to this, “presenteeism” accounts for 1.5 times more lost productivity than absences (Centre for Mental Health, 2010). The financial cost is huge: mental health associated absences cost UK employers an estimated £26 billion a year, which equates to an average of more than £1,000 per employee (Centre for Mental Health, 2007).



MHFA England CEO Poppy Jaman explains: “Despite all the good work that’s being done to normalise conversations around mental health, stigma does still exist, which makes it hard for people to feel that they can talk openly about their mental wellbeing, particularly in the workplace. It’s vital that more is done to encourage discussions about mental health, between colleagues and also between staff and their managers. We all have mental health, just as we have physical health, but it can seem more difficult to spot the signs of mental ill health.”

Mental health first aid (MHFA) is the mental health equivalent of a physical first-aid course, and MHFA England is leading the way in increasing the number of mental health first aiders, by providing participants with the skills and confidence to recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues and effectively guide a person towards the right support.

Across the world, in 24 countries, one million people have been trained in mental health first-aid skills. MHFA England has trained more than 140,000, and its mission is to train one in 10 of the UK population.


10 reasons every employer should invest in staff mental health

Poppy Jaman, CEO of MHFA England, gives her top 10 reasons why all employers should consider investing in employee mental health:

  1. Retain skills through a reduction in staff turnover. Almost one-third (31%) of UK employees said they would consider leaving their current role within the next 12 months if stress levels in their organisation did not improve (Metlife, 2015).
  2. Cut sickness absence. Mental health issues, such as stress, depression and anxiety, account for almost 70 million days off sick per year – the most of any health condition – costing the UK economy between £70 billion and £100 billion per year (Davies SC, 2014).
  3. Reduce presenteeism. The annual cost of mental ill-health-related presenteeism – people coming to work and underperforming due to ill health – is £15.1 billion, or £605 per employee in the UK (CIPD/Mind, 2011).
  4. Demonstrate a commitment to corporate social responsibility. Work-related mental ill health costs UK employers £26 billion every year through lost working days, staff turnover and lower productivity (Centre for Mental Health, 2007). However, many business leaders still admit to prejudice against people with mental health issues in their organisation (Bupa, 2014).
  5. Decrease likelihood of grievance and discrimination claims from unhappy staff. Grievances, or more simply “concerns, problems or complaints that employees raise with their employers”, are on the rise, according to mental health charity Mind.
  6. Ensure compliance with legislation by understanding the law. If a mental health issue has adverse effects on someone’s ability to perform day-to-day tasks, this is considered a disability protected under the Equality Act 2010. Employers have a duty not to discriminate and to make reasonable adjustments for staff in the workplace.
  7. Ensure a healthier workplace. On average, employees take seven days off work a year for health reasons, and it is estimated that mental health problems account for 40% of this figure, however, up to 90% of staff feel unable to be honest about this being the reason for their absence (Mind, 2013).
  8. Improve staff morale. Sixty per cent of employees say they’d feel more motivated and more likely to recommend their organisation as a good place to work if their employer took action to support mental health and wellbeing.
  9. Increase engagement and commitment among staff. “Supporting mental health in the workplace is not just a corporate responsibility; staff who have positive mental health are more productive, and businesses that promote a progressive approach to mental health can see a significant impact on business performance, so it’s about good business too,” says Dr Justin Varney, national lead for adult health and wellbeing at Public Health England.
  10. Provide better customer service. There is a strong link between levels of staff wellbeing and motivation and performance. Taking a positive, proactive approach to mental health at work can help you grow your employees and your organisation.

Poppy Jaman is the CEO and one of the co-founders of MHFA England. She also sits on the board of Public Health England as a non-executive director and advises the board on mental health issues. In 2012, Jaman helped found the City Mental Health Alliance, a network of thought leaders from the City, including Link Laters, KPMG, Deloitte and the Bank of England, that began meeting to discuss mental health in their workplaces.

In February 2016, Business in the Community launched a report on mental health in the workplace, and MHFA training was one of two key recommendations made to businesses. MHFA England works with employers that are taking a whole organisation approach to mental health, including training staff in MHFA. Today, businesses across a range of sectors, including the consultancy EY, Channel 4 and engineering company Skanska, are training their staff in MHFA and raising awareness of mental health in the workplace.

MHFA England is particularly relevant due to this year’s World Mental Health Day theme – “Psychological and mental health first aid for all” – which aims to make MHFA a global priority, on a par with physical first aid.

Jaman explains: “Encouraging people to talk about their own mental health is the most important step to creating a culture where it feels OK to be open about an issue that affects 10 million people each year. Workplaces also need to make adequate provision for employees who are experiencing a mental health issue so that they feel able to seek support if and when they need it.

“The key thing to look out for when it comes to mental ill health are changes in an employee’s usual behaviour, such as unusual irritability or tearfulness, sudden loss of confidence or increased sickness absence. Noticing changes in the behaviour of an employee may be the first sign of recognising a mental health issue, which is the first step in accessing the support needed to recover.”

This World Mental Health Day, MHFA England is calling on everyone, including businesses, to “Take 10 Together”. Check in on someone – whether that be a friend, a family member, a colleague or student – and have a meaningful 10-minute conversation with them about their mental health and wellbeing. This could help someone to access the support they need.

To find out more about “Take 10 Together” and how employers can support the mental wellbeing of their staff, visit

Case study: mental health first aid at Wellcome

One organisation training staff in MHFA is the medical research charity, the Wellcome Trust. Natasha Gordon, project manager in people and facilities at Wellcome, explains why mental health is a vital part of the charity’s HR strategy.

“At Wellcome, we fund global research to drive reform and advance ideas, with the aim to improve health for everyone. The charity employs 700 staff, including sub-contractors at our office in Euston, London.

“The nature of our work means we take our wellbeing initiatives seriously and are wholly committed to ensuring the health and wellbeing of our staff. One way we are demonstrating this commitment is through training staff in mental health first aid.

“I attended MHFA training in a previous role, so when I joined Wellcome, I volunteered to lead on coordinating the same training for staff at my new place of work. It is important that Wellcome, which has a number of external-facing mental health research funding initiatives, is committed to the same ethos internally.

“Wellcome started offering training in September 2015 and has trained 130 employees so far.”

Why we train our staff in MHFA

“MHFA is part of our broader strategy for wellbeing at Wellcome, with particular focus on prevention, intervention and rehabilitation,” says Gordon.

“All employees at Wellcome are given the opportunity to attend MHFA training sessions. We have found that managers are keen to have the tools which enable them to start a meaningful conversation around mental health with their staff. Generally, middle management can be more difficult to get buy-in from with this type of initiative, so their interest in learning the tools is great progress.

“The results of conversations are all logged confidentially, with details of what signposting was given. This way we can see if there is any common denominating feedback, which we can act on as an employer.”

Results of mental health first-aid training

“After successfully piloting MHFA in September 2015, we now have 90 employees who have completed awareness training and 40 who are fully qualified mental health first aiders. We don’t have a cap on how many employees are trained. So far, we have matched the number of physical first aiders, and many of our physical first aiders have also had MHFA training.

“We ensure the commitment to rolling out MHFA is apparent at every level of the business. While the training is not compulsory, HR colleagues and business partners are strongly advised to also take part in the training, and this extends to our sub-contractors,” says Gordon.

“Support staff play a role, too, with mental health first aiders at the on-site gym, which is run by an external provider. The security team employed directly by us are also trained in MHFA, with at least one security guard on duty at all times. In addition, the staff who work at the Wellcome Collection next door will also be taking the training in the near future.”


Business in the Community. Mental health toolkit for employers.

Bupa (2014). “Breaking the silence: Business leaders failing those with mental health conditions”. Fifty business leaders and 500 employees both with and without mental health conditions were independently surveyed in summer 2014.

Centre for Mental Health (2007). Mental health at work: developing the business case.

Centre for Mental Health (2010). Economic and social costs of mental health problems.

CIPD/Mind (2011). Managing and supporting mental health at work: disclosure tools for managers. Found on p.7.

Davies SC (2014). Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2013. Public mental health priorities: investing in the evidence. Department of Health. Found on p.158.

Health and Safety Executive (2016). Work related stress, anxiety and depression statistics in Great Britain 2014/15.

Metlife (2015). Organisational resilience insights into and practical ideas for building resilience in the workplace. Found on p.13.

Mind. Introduction to mentally healthy workplaces.

Mind (2013). YouGov poll commissioned by Mind.