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HR must continue to push mental health awareness

EY has trained its staff to act as 'mental health first aiders' to help colleagues

HRDs must continue to push awareness of mental health issues in the workplace to ensure the stigmas associated with psychological conditions are removed, EY’s senior employee relations manager Paul Quinlan has stated.

The company has offered Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training for almost two years, which aims to give workers the mental health equivalent of physical first aid skills. More than 500 staff have become mental health first aiders among a workforce of 14,000, with many reporting increased confidence in managing colleagues with a mental health condition.

Quinlan said despite HR colleagues having raised awareness of the issue and available support, the organisation is not yet “all the way there”.

“In terms of my HR colleagues, there’s much more awareness than there was two years ago of the issue and the support available. People are directed much more quickly to support,” he continued. “[But] I still think there’s a lot of managers who don’t have an employee with mental ill health and, therefore, they might be aware of our programme generally but they aren’t aware of the specifics.”

EY promotes its first aiders by publishing a list of trained colleagues on its intranet, who are available to signpost other workers to the firm's psychological care pathway or refer them to its occupational health team. Trained employees can also join EY’s mental health network, become a 'buddy' for a colleague returning to work after mental ill health, or provide a space to talk.

Quinlan described the “constant battle” HR professionals face to “get [their] messages heard” in a busy organisation. “It is quite hard to get the key messages at the right time to people. Which is partly why we need to keep pushing what we’re doing.

“In an ideal world we want everyone to be more like our HR team and have that all at their fingertips,” he continued. “But in reality one hopes our managers and partners are sensible enough to know they’d better talk to HR or know there’s stuff on the website and get people linked in to the right sort of support.”

Mental Health First Aid England chief operating officer Fionuala Bonnar agreed with Quinlan. “Although the working world has made progress there is still a long way to go to remove stigma around mental health.”

She suggested HR professionals could achieve this by encouraging senior leaders to lead by example, and by backing up mental health awareness initiatives and training with robust policies and procedures.

“A good place to start is to evaluate how healthy your workplace is currently: what support is available to employees, how often is it accessed, is it offered proactively? What are the current sickness and absence levels related to mental ill health?

“Staff surveys are a good way to gauge attitudes towards mental health at all levels of the organisation and to measure the impact of support, training, and procedure changes introduced over time.”

According to Department of Health research mental health issues account for almost 70 million sick days a year.