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No mental health policy at eight out of ten firms

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ISLAND employers are being urged to do more to safeguard the mental, as well as the physical, wellbeing of their staff.

James Le Feuvre

The call comes as figures obtained by the charity Mind Jersey reveal that as many as eight out of ten employers have no policy in place to help their staff to maintain good mental health.

James Le Feuvre, the executive director of the Mind Jersey, says that one in four people will experience a mental health issue every year. He added that such problems were equally common in men and women, yet men have fewer consultations with their GP and are three times more likely to commit suicide, which is the most common cause of death in males under the age of 49.

‘We all know that in our lives we have physical health and mental health but we don’t all recognise or acknowledge our mental health condition,’ Mr Le Feuvre said. ‘We are trying to get people to gain a better understanding of this.

‘Half of all mental health problems have been established by the age of 15 and this rises to 75% by the age of 24. The World Health Organisation has predicted that by 2020, mental ill health will be the second-most common condition after heart disease.’

One company taking the matter very seriously is construction firm ROK, with which Mind Jersey has built a strong relationship. The firm’s commercial director, Kevan Nelson, said that not only did suicide account for the deaths of more men under the age of 50 than anything else, it was also far worse in the construction industry than most people realised.

‘In fact, the suicide rate is higher in our industry than in almost all others,’ he said, pointing to a sometimes monotonous daily routine that left many building-trade workers struggling to see a real purpose in their lives as part of the cause.

Mr Nelson also said that Jersey could be seen as a double-edged sword. ‘Head down to St Brelade’s Bay on a glorious sunny Saturday afternoon and it is wonderful. But the flip side is the cost of living and housing. You may find yourself in a bedsit in town with one window, no family and few prospects. Jersey is a prison for a lot of people and we are very good at not seeing what we don’t want to see.’

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ROK has undertaken mental health first aid training through Mind Jersey and has set up a mental health and wellbeing committee, which includes two directors, and that committee feeds straight back to board level.

Mr Le Feuvre said he was delighted that Mind Jersey and ROK had built such a strong relationship. ‘They are working with us to improve their understanding about mental health and are one of a growing number of local employers who have invested in the mental health first aid training that we are offering.

‘The training, first developed in Australia, brings a structured approach, ensuring that the maintenance of good mental health is just as important as that of physical health. First aiders gain an understanding of the factors that have an impact upon, and relate to, mental health. They are taught how to spot early signs of stress, anxiety or depression in their colleagues and are enabled to start that first conversation which is so important in providing support and assistance.

‘We know that at least 45% of sickness absence can be attributed to mental health and, in addition to the obvious personal distress behind these figures, there is a significant loss of productivity for the employer. Organisations perform better when their staff are healthy, motivated and focused.’

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Mr Le Feuvre said that smart employers support staff who are experiencing mental health problems, helping them to cope and recover. Such action, he believes, is the key to determining how well and how quickly they are able to get back to peak performance.

‘Standing by a colleague when they experience a mental health problem is not only about keeping hold of a valued staff member, it also sends out a message about the organisation’s values,’ he said.

‘Trust and integrity are key drivers of engagement and organisations, like ROK, that support their staff reap the benefits in terms of loyalty and commitment from all employees.’

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