We have just completed Mental Health Awareness Week, and figures released by the Mental Health Foundation make pretty grim reading.
Three in four Britons have been so stressed over the last year that they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope, stress has resulted in one in three people being left feeling suicidal, whilst one in six have self-harmed as a direct result.
The report highlighted the views of mental health experts who said "the huge number of people affected should prompt employers, NHS staff and ministers to do more to reduce stress’s debilitating effects and provide more help."
While there is undoubtedly a range of factors contributing to individual mental health, it is clear that the workplace has huge potential either to promote or to undermine mental well-being.
It is against this growing concern and increasing body of evidence that unionlearn has been developing a “Good Work and Mental Well-being Project”. This is to give union reps the tools to recognise mental health issues at work, and be able to signpost colleagues to find support.
Good work supports mental well-being for everyone, and the unionlearn project aims to explore and develop workplaces that generate positive mental health and well-being for all through productive and engaging work.
The role of trade union representatives could be critical firstly, in negotiating policies with the employer that reduced the risk of workplace mental health issues arising, but then, if they happened, in trying to ensure that those affected could access appropriate support and remain in employment.
Some of the key project themes include raising awareness, promoting change, Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs) and rethinking job design and work organisation.
There is already a high level of union engagement in mental health initiatives, reflecting the growing importance of this issue. The unionlearn mental well-being offer will complement and support unions work in this area and, through the MHFA training, help build union capacity to grow and develop further their mental health work.
The unionlearn mental well-being offer to unions will cover a broad range of activities starting with awareness raising sessions and MHFA training and also include ways tp promote positive mental well-being workplaces, provide advice and guidance to unions on mental health and assist unions to develop workplace union mental health action plans.
TUC/unionlearn has already produced a number of very useful resources that help reps get to grips with the issues. These range from publications such as the Mental health and the workplace workbook and mini guides, to a learning theme on the unionlearn Climbing Frame, webinars and eNotes. There is a mental well-being initial assessment being developed for SkillCheck.
MHFA will be an integral part of the support that unionlearn will offer. The workplace mental health training programme teaches participants how to notice and support people who may be experiencing a mental health issue and provide appropriate help.
Unionlearn delivery of MHFA training will ensure that the role that unions play in supporting members with mental health issues is recognised, along with the key support unions offer to help prevent problems, especially those related to stress, bullying, harassment, workload etc.
We aim to train a cohort of unionlearn mental health first aid instructors that can deliver training sessions to union reps, enabling them to raise awareness of mental health issues in the workplace.
More details on the unionlearn project will be publicised over the coming months, and there will be dedicated Mental Health at Work sessions in autumn's regional Supporting Learners events to ensure union learning reps know about the support on offer.
Mental health issues at work is something that can affect anyone and have an impact beyond the individual concerned – but is also something that union reps are in a perfect position to raise awareness of and offer help.
We are convinced that the new unionlearn project will give reps the support they need.