Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety has announced new first aid guidance on mental health in response to calls from businesses including City law firms.
The Health and Safety Executive guidance, published yesterday, now provides employers with advice on how to support employees experiencing a mental health issue, including training staff as mental health trained first aiders.
The updated guidance says: ‘following your employer first aid assessment: you might decide that it will be beneficial to have personnel trained to identify and understand symptoms and be able to support someone who might be experiencing a mental health issue.’ As yet however, there has been no legal change to make mental health first aid training mandatory.
This week City firms Hogan Lovells and Reed Smith joined some of the country’s major employers in signing an open letter calling on the government to put mental health on an equal footing to physical health. Charity call service LawCare, which offers support to those in the legal profession, and lobbying group TheCityUK also signed the letter.
Earlier this year, Leeds-based solicitor Jodie Hill, managing director of employment boutique Thrive Law, started a petition on change.org calling for the law to be amended so that it would be mandatory to appoint mental health first-aiders in the same way as physical first-aiders.
Reacting to the HSE guidance, Hill told the Gazette: ’Employers who introduce mental health first aiders and focus on improving the wellbeing of staff see both morale and productivity improve. Mental health costs far exceed those of physical injuries in the workplace, yet trained mental health first aiders are still disappointingly rare. But this is changing.’
The call comes at a time when mental health problems, particularly among junior lawyers, are in the spotlight.
Earlier this year, the Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) published guidance for law firms recommending that they should consider appointing a mental health first aider, or wellbeing champions and mentors. The JLD’s 2018 resilience and wellbeing survey found that, among the division’s 70,000 members, 38% of respondents said they had experienced mental health problems in the past year, up from 26%. The proportion of trainees who had experienced mental health problems more than doubled in the last year.
Mark Watson-Gandy, chair of Mental Health First Aid England and an insolvency barrister at London set Three Stone, said: ‘Every employee should be able to access a trained staff member to receive support and guidance if they are dealing with a mental health issue at work. It is only then that the stigma of mental health in the workplace will finally be broken.’