Earlier this month St John Ambulance hosted the Embedding Mental Health Best Practices in the Workplace conference - a case-study and solutions-led event to help organisations gain key insights and ideas from industry experts on how to implement a resilient and practical approach to mental health and stress in the workplace.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England training, SLEEP training and talking groups for people undergoing IVF were among methods of supporting mental health in the workplace revealed by speakers at the two-day event. Speaking at the conference, group occupational health and wellbeing manager at Yorkshire Water, Susan Gee, said these and other measures at the company had cut referrals to counselling by occupational health professionals by nearly half (48%). She was among 30 speakers addressing more than 120 delegates from a wide range of organisations, including construction companies, banks, retailers, colleges, councils, charities and the armed forces. 

Yorkshire Water, which has 3,400 employees, has made it compulsory for its people leaders to take MHFA England training and has so far trained more than 600 leaders and other employees, she said. Other “health promotion” groups and activities have focused on the menopause, new parenthood, weight management, resilience and suicide prevention. 

Susan commented:

“These are all issues affecting mental health. I believe the drop in counselling referrals is a result of managers and employees feeling more confident to talk about mental health and increased awareness and support.”

Another company keen to break the stigma of mental health is worldwide construction firm Jacobs, which has trained 300 “positive mental health champions” in the UK since 2016 and 1,000 globally. According to its principal civil engineer, Kathleen Harrison, speaking at the conference, the success of the company’s Mental Health Matters programme is such that a further 1,000 are due to be trained. 

Kathleen said commitment from the top of the organisation was essential: “We’ve only been able to do this with the buy-in of our senior leadership and the enthusiasm of the champions. We have the backing of our CEO.”

It was also revealed that Thames Water’s comprehensive wellbeing programme, which uses virtual reality technology to teach mental health awareness, has seen a 75% drop in absence due to work-related illness. Head of safety, health and wellbeing, Gareth Mullen, explained that tackling mental health problems early could stop issues escalating and improve the chances of recovery.

St John Ambulance, in partnership with MHFA England, has trained 6,000 Mental Health First Aiders since it began offering the training in 2017 and expects this figure to at least double next year.

The charity’s chief executive, Martin Houghton-Brown, opened the conference held at the King’s Fund in London on Thursday 6th December. He later said:

“This summit has brought together workplace mental health expertise and shared learning for organisations of all sizes and sectors, many of which have been involved in ground-breaking initiatives. We’re confident the event will have spurred many delegates on with the knowledge and confidence to encourage their organisations to make meaningful step changes in their approach to mental health.

“At our charity, we are still learning too. But we are firmly committed to using our long-established expertise in training people to care for others to help organisations now address the mental as well as physical well-being of their people.”

Workplace Lead at MHFA England, Jaan Madan, took part in a panel discussion on first aid, resilience and self-help. He added:

“What’s clear from discussions over the past two days is that organisations investing in mental health are reaping the benefits, with healthier, happier and more productive workforces. The key message is that we must approach mental health from a whole organisation perspective, from healthy job design, to reasonable adjustments, to mental health training.

“It’s also been encouraging to see the important role that Mental Health First Aid training is playing for so many organisations as one part of a wider approach, and we are proud to be working alongside St John Ambulance to ensure more and more people have access to someone trained in Mental Health First Aid skills in the workplace.”

Find out more about MHFA England training for your workplace at: mhfaengland.org/organisations/workplace