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Poppy Jaman: Taking a whole organisational approach to mental health

Tuesday 31 October 2017

Poppy Jaman, CEO of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, shares her thoughts on how employers can take a 'whole organisation' approach to mental health.

Poppy Jaman Poppy Jaman

Poppy Jaman, CEO of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England is an internationally respected mental health advocate and has over 19 years' experience of influencing and leading change in public mental health.

Along with her work with MHFA England, Poppy is CEO of City Mental Health Alliance, a coalition of London based businesses working to increase understanding of mental health issues and to create a culture of good mental health in the City.

Each year around ten million adults in the UK will experience mental ill health, meaning one in four of us will experience a mental health issue at some point in our lifetime. Over the past decade, mental health awareness has accelerated, and more and more employers now understand that mental health is not only a serious issue for society but for businesses too.

Whilst attitudes towards mental health in the workplace are shifting, it is clear employers need to do more to translate increased awareness into action. Recently, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England and others partnered with Business in the Community to support the launch of their Mental Health at Work Report [PDF, kb]. Worryingly, it reveals as many as 1.2 million people may have faced disciplinary action, demotion or dismissal, after disclosing a mental health issue at work. That's 15% of the working population and a troubling rise of 6%, when compared with the findings in last year's report.

One person who has experienced these issues first-hand is Kathryn Grant, now a trained MHFA Instructor. Previously, Kathryn worked at a leading management consultancy firm in a fast-paced environment. As a high performer, Kathryn put a lot of pressure on herself, and paired with the long hours and drinking culture at her workplace, her mental health deteriorated.

Eventually, Kathryn disclosed her mental health issues, but following a period of agreed absence, Kathryn underwent a difficult return-to-work process. In her absence, a number of team changes were made and poorly communicated, leaving her feeling out-of-touch and stressed. A subsequent performance review meeting, where she was told to 'buck up her ideas' caused Kathryn to pack up her belongings and leave the company that same day.

She recognises that her employer had good intentions, but that ultimately, they were not fully equipped to handle the situation. Kathryn says: "I think my reluctance to speak about my mental ill health combined with [my employer's] lack of awareness combined to be a really unfortunate situation where I didn't feel comfortable in the workplace anymore."

Kathryn is not alone, currently just 11% of people felt able to disclose a mental health issue to their line manager. In fact, just last week the Thriving at Work report was published,  revealing that around 300,000 people with long term mental health issues lose their jobs each year. It also suggests that the costs related to poor mental health for employers are between £33 billion and £42 billion every year. The review led by Mind CEO, Paul Farmer, and Lord Dennis Stevenson, provides six core standards for employers to adopt so they can better support the mental health of all employees, to ensure they remain in and thrive through work.

Workplace Mental Health First Aid courses have an important role to play in supporting employers to adopt and implement these standards. Awareness and talking about mental health openly is a great first step in creating a mentally healthy organisation. Beyond awareness of the issue, managers need to be equipped with the skills to ensure people feel supported in their role and able to thrive at work. In order to better support employees, transform practices and truly embed a whole organisational approach to workplace wellbeing, employers need to offer mental health training. Investing in the mental wellbeing of your staff in this way can help retain excellent employees, allowing business to grow while creating a more supportive, open culture. It makes sense, for both your staff's wellbeing and your bottom line.

To support employers and managers in developing mentally healthy workplaces, we recently launched a Workplace Wellbeing Toolkit. This illustrates a strategic step-by-step process to achieving a 'whole organisational' approach to mental health in the workplace and includes guidance on awareness raising, training and sustainability.

Many enlightened employers are already training staff to support the mental and emotional wellbeing of their teams by becoming Mental Health First Aiders. This means there are members of staff trained in how to recognise the symptoms of common mental health issues and who can effectively guide people towards the right support. To date, over 210,000 people in England have trained in MHFA skills.

The time to act is now. Mental health is not just something we want employers to talk about on awareness days, but rather commit to addressing all year round. We welcome the work Acas is doing to provide employers with the necessary guidance to promote mental health awareness and ultimately improve mental health in the workplace. We, alongside Acas, urge all employers to act now and take a proactive step towards creating a mentally healthy organisation.

For more guidance around how to approach and respond to a colleague who is experiencing a mental health issue download the free Line Managers Resource at

You can also find out more about Workplace MHFA courses at


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