Around one in six working age adults will experience anxiety, depression or symptoms associated with stress at any one time. How we respond to, and support people who are struggling can have a huge impact on their ability to stay in work, and to embark on a recovery journey. Would you know how to respond and support someone in crisis? 84% of UK line managers believe they are responsible for employee wellbeing but only 24% have received any training.

Often, we miss opportunities to intervene early when employees are struggling; the stigma of disclosing a mental health condition is still a significant barrier to employees seeking support. Only 11% of employees discussed a recent mental health problem with their line manager, and half of employees say they would notdiscuss mental health with their line manager. Why? We fear discrimination… will this affect my future job prospects? How will people view me? Will people think I’m weak? Managers shy away from the subject for fear of making matters worse, or the fear of legal consequences if they get it wrong.

This culture of silence means that opportunities to support someone in the workplace are being missed, resulting in staff being off sick or falling out of the workplace altogether.

In order to tackle stigma, and take the fear out of starting conversations, we need to change the culture in our organisations around mental health. You will have seen many campaigns recently encouraging people to talk about their mental health. I work a lot in male-dominated industries; although we’d like to think otherwise, there is still a fear of showing weakness/ vulnerability… men just don’t talk about mental health. In order to affect change, we need to create a culture where people know they will be heard, not ridiculed, judged or disadvantaged by their admission. 

We also see the highest rates of suicide within male-dominated industries. In the construction industry alone, we lose more men to suicide than to industrial accidents. Would you know how to start a conversation with someone having thoughts of suicide? Most people are terrified of saying the wrong thing, and making the situation worse. In reality, the evidence shows us that talking about suicide has completely the opposite effect. We’re much more able to prevent suicide if we talk about it.

People often ask me how I got into doing the work I do. It’s an interesting question… with a complex answer, but one that I think many of us relate to. Often our own lived experience is what gives us the passion to affect change; this is certainly my story.

I have experienced periods of depression, anxiety and agoraphobia throughout my life that have given me an understanding of mental ill-health and a real empathy for those in crisis. Inevitably, though, our personal mental state leaks into the workplace and affects the way we work and interact with others. I have experienced both good and bad responses to my mental ill-health at work, and I’m not alone.

Mental Health First Aid training gives people tools to support themselves and each other, so everyone can talk about mental health and seek help when needed. It teaches people to spot the signs of mental health issues and guide a person towards support. The course doesn’t teach people to be therapists or counsellors, but gives people the skills to respond in a crisis, and to reach out before a crisis happens