SFE YP blog | Mental health in business

Meg Whyte is a senior researcher at Carlyle and SFE Young Professionals Deputy Chair for Edinburgh

‘Mental Health’ is one of those terms that tends to illicit a different response from each person who encounters it, which makes perfect sense given that we are all individually only really aware of our own. As a term, it’s intended to summarise how we are on a cognitive and emotional level; how we interact with our surroundings and how we engage with others, whether they’re family, friends, colleagues, strangers or most importantly - ourselves.

Given its extraordinarily nuanced nature, it is particularly difficult to know how to engage with Mental Health, especially within the workplace. The last 18 months have highlighted how intrinsic and pivotal it is in individual well-being, and by extension happiness and personal surety.

Mental Health in Business

Awareness and acceptance of Mental Health concerns within the professional sphere is a relatively new occurrence. Businesses have an unfortunate legacy of focusing on performance and profit over people. That’s not true of every sector and it’s probably unfair to tar all organisations with the same brush, however it is true that on average, most businesses could stand to significantly improve their understanding of Mental Health.

Financially, it even makes good business sense to invest in Mental Health training and the provision of support.

The cost of Mental Health related illness costs industry £42-£45 billion per annum, equating to an estimated £1,700 per employee.

MHFA Training

I was afforded the opportunity to become a Mental Health First Aider earlier this year, and it has been something I’ve been interested in pursuing since 2019. My personal list of reasons is long, but essentially boiled down to a hope that I could improve my own awareness of Mental Health, and how it impacts people in ways that are not always immediately understandable to me.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is not a perfect remedy, but as surmised by primary introduction to the course;

The aims of any first aid are to:

  • Preserve life
  • Prevent further harm
  • Promote recovery
  • Provide comfort

Everyone in attendance had their own reasons for training, but what we all shared in common was an awareness of how pervasive Mental Health issues are, and how stigmatised they can be, especially within the workplace. MHFA training was introduced to equip trainees with practical tools and the knowledge to support others in their organisations, and provide first aiders with the confidence to step in reassure and support a person in distress.

I found the course illuminating and incredibly helpful in my own understanding of how I relate to other experiences. However, it is at this point that I will highlight that the experience can be harrowing, and if you are intending to pursue training, please be sure to check in on your own Mental Wellbeing throughout. Suffice it to say - attending these sessions could potentially raise a lot of triggers across a spectrum of issues, and the most important think you can do is make sure that you are actually okay.

Mental Health in My Own Workplace

As a business, Carlyle now has four First Aiders covering a team of 16 people. That’s a higher proportion than is probably necessary in most environments, but we made a collective decision that it was best to have different people equipped across different parts of the business. After careful consideration we thought it may be difficult for someone to have an open and honest dialogue about mental health with a manager due to concerns (justified or not), about how it may affect their employment. For this reason, we have First Aiders within management, as well as outside of it.

We also introduced coded phrasing which would give team members the space to say a completely innocuous term, and as First Aiders we would know that at that moment they were struggling with their mental health but were not ready to talk about it. We have introduced wellness days during peak periods across our business, and we typically just aim to be more flexible and approachable to each individual team member’s unique needs.

One of the most important learnings I took from training, which is now shared within our business is that everyone experiences stress differently. To use the analogy of a bucket: we all have an empty bucket into which we can pour an amount of stress. Everyone’s bucket is a different size, and some of us have the ability to periodically drain the bucket, some of us struggle with releasing built up stress, but all of us are susceptible to having our particular bucket overflow.

I hope you looked after yourself and your stress bucket on World Mental Health Day. Keep an eye out for some handy resources regarding MHFA training to come!