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IHC Mental Health Awareness Week blog – MHFAT blog

For Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24 May 2020), here’s what employers should be doing to support staff mental health

It’s fair to say that most UK workplaces now have at least one mental health first aid champion or ambassador in the workforce: those who have trained in mental health first aid and know the signs and symptoms of anxiety, depression or stress to look out for.

In that sense, mental health first aid training has been a great success and mental health awareness has improved considerably over the years. But, says Bernice Price, senior sales consultant and mental health specialist at IHC, mental health support can’t just stop with training a few employees and sending them on workshops – there is so much more to do.

“Employers need to know what’s next,” says Price. “Companies have now offered mental health first aid workshops and training, but now they’re looking for the next step. How can they maintain and improve on mental health support? How do they move it on and take it to the next level?”

According to Price, the next level comes in two stages. One: understand the source and triggers and tailor resources to suit employees needs. Employers need to work towards a preventative approach to poor mental health, just as you would prevent physical health issues through health screenings. And two: maintain mental health support by communication, connection and compassion. That may seem like an impossible task during these times, but it’s never been more important.

“Managers can’t see the signs they’ve been trained to look out for because everyone is working from home, so instead they need to keep all lines of communication open to find out how staff actually are,” Price recommends.

Phone calls, emails and video chats to ‘check-in’ with staff can help those who may feel alienated or who are struggling. Managers shouldn’t be afraid to share their feelings, too. Price says this is about being a role model and demonstrating it’s OK to feel anxious or low.

“A good manager will show compassion. They’ll be good listeners and won’t dismiss the feelings of others. Their job, especially right now, is to empower the team and encourage them to talk about how they are really feeling.”

A word of warning: sometimes those who have been trained in mental health first aid may feel overwhelmed with what they’ve been told by struggling staff. Price describes it as a ‘can of worms’: they’ve opened up the conversation but don’t feel they’re fully equipped to provide the right kind of follow-on support. This, she insists, is entirely reasonable: mental health first aiders aren’t counsellors or psychiatrists, nor should they pretend to be.

“It’s important for employees to understand they have fulfilled a need but the next step is to signpost employees to available resources,” Price explains. “It might be to signpost them to the company’s EAP or an outside charitable resource like Mind or to apps like Headspace or Calm.”

Often, it will be about reminding staff of what the company already offer through existing employee benefits and their health insurers.

“Managers can’t do more than create a safe space for staff and reassure them it’s OK to speak out. Then you signpost them to resources and specialists who can help them further. The employers who foster and encourage this supportive atmosphere will be remembered for their empathy and compassion. But the ones who don’t will be remembered quite differently. Which would you rather be?”

Bernice Price and the team are available to support clients wanting to develop the next level of mental health support as part of a workplace wellbeing strategy.

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