Hot topic: Mental and physical health parity

Business leaders and unions have called for the government to ensure parity of treatment for mental health in the workplace through obliging employers to offer mental health first aid, with Parliament’s backbench business committee announcing this debate will be held this week

Could such a policy boost treatment of mental illness at work? Or are there other factors to consider?

Jaan Madan, head of commercial development at Mental Health First Aid England, says:

"An effective workplace mental health strategy is all about taking what we call a ‘whole organisation’ approach. This means everyone working together and at all levels in their commitment to wellbeing.

It means focusing on prevention and thinking about things like healthy job design and reasonable adjustments. But it also includes putting the right supports in place for when employees are struggling with their mental health, and ensuring the pathways are there so they can access the right help at the right time.

Mental health awareness training and mental health first aiders are a key part of this holistic approach. Changing legislation to put mental and physical first aid on an equal footing will also make a massive difference to how we think about mental health in the workplace – and the Health and Safety Executive’s new guidance around this is a step in the right direction. However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that there are many ingredients to both creating a mentally-healthy workplace and ensuring those experiencing mental ill health are fully supported."

Mel Fox, director of training and enterprise at St John Ambulance, says:

"The Health and Safety Executive has advised employers to consider the mental health of their workforces as part of their first aid needs assessments. We think this explicit mention of mental health will bring about a step change in how business leaders approach this issue, which affects so many people but has for so long been taboo.

Nevertheless we believe we should go further, which is why we signed the letter calling for a change in the law. We see lots of employers have woken up to the impact of stress, depression and other conditions but we also hear how many HR professionals still struggle to persuade bosses to take mental health seriously.

It should be remembered that it hasn’t always been mandatory for employers to provide general first aid – but workplaces are undoubtedly better off as a result of this law."

Check back tomorrow for part two of this hot topic