Sunday 18 November 2018 1:14 pm

Business leaders call on May to honour mental health manifesto pledge

A group of British business leaders have called for the Prime Minister to follow through her manifesto promise to “transform how mental health is regarded in the workplace” through updated health and safety regulations.

An open letter to Theresa May with over 50 signatories from major businesses – including senior figures from Royal Mail, PricewaterhouseCoopers, WH Smith, Direct Line and Bupa – asks that her government “prioritises” updates to current law which would mean mental health care is included in current first aid guidance.

The letter says: “Each year, workplace mental health issues cost the UK economy almost £35bn” due to lost working time, and points to the impacts which untreated mental health issues can have on people’s personal relationships.

Every year 15.4 million working days are lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety, according to government statistics.

“Requiring employers to implement some basic steps to protect an employee’s mental health would reduce these impacts,” the letter says.

Its signatories called on May to follow through with a pledge from the Conservatives’ 2017 General Election manifesto to “amend health and safety regulations so that employers provide appropriate first aid training and needs assessment for mental health, as they currently do for risks to physical health”.

Community interest company Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England coordinated the letter in conjunction with Bauer, the media group which owns brands include Heat, Kiss and Absolute Radio.

Chief operating officer of MHFA Fionuala Bonnar said: “Today’s open letter shows that business leaders clearly recognise the need to support their employees’ mental health in the same way they do their physical health.

“The change in legislation we are calling for will establish a baseline for protecting mental health in the workplace, ensuring no one is left behind. This is just one part of improving approaches to workplace mental health, but it represents an important step forward.”

A government spokesperson said: “We have been clear that establishing parity between physical and mental health is a priority for this government, and we want to ensure that people with mental health conditions have the opportunity to progress in the workplace and achieve their potential. That’s exactly why we’re taking forward all 40 recommendations of the independent Stevenson Farmer review of mental health and employers.

“The Health and Safety Executive will shortly be updating its First Aid guidance to help employers better understand the need to consider mental health alongside physical health.”