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Mental Health Nurses in business – a no brainer right?

My name is Stacy Thomson and I am a Mental Health Nurse and Performance Coach.

Approximately 2 years ago, I set out to take on the world of business – I wanted to do this in two ways.

Firstly, I was confident that I could coach people in business to perform better – be that at work or home. Over the last two years, this element of my business has grown and has provided such an overwhelmed sense of pride and excitement - I have been inspired by those I have met and coached.

Secondly, I wanted to help those working in business overcome mental health problems. I wanted to help reduce stigma by encouraging and supporting people to speak up about their experiences and I wanted to help develop toolkits and ways to prevent people developing mental health problems within the business environment.

These goals and values, still drive me to do what I do and provide me with the motivation to keep banging those doors down. I believe it is my purpose to help others. You see, despite this drive, I have come across many stumbling blocks - some of which are beyond frustrating and at times I have questioned how far we have really come.

On a positive note (and there are many), over the last two years I have connected with some of the most amazing people in business doing great work in the space of mental health and well-being, to name just a few; Minds@Work, Business Healthy, City Mental Health Alliance, MIND and Business in the Community. Since November 2016 I have also been part of the leadership team at Minds@Work and I’m proud that as a community we continue to grow, educate and support far and wide.

In addition, I have met some amazing people who also share my purpose - two of those people are William Nicholson (Dragon Café) and Julia Hillman (Second Mile Consulting) with whom I have recently begun working with on an exciting new mental health project to create a well-being space in the City.

Senior leaders have come out and openly talked about their mental health struggles via campaigns such a ‘This is Me’ and ‘This is my Story’. We have seen companies such as Deloitte, Herbert Smith Freehills, Lendlease and many others have taken great strides in supporting the mental well-being of their staff.

We have also seen some amazing and supportive media stories with not only celebrities and sports people talking about their own experience of mental health but even members of the Royal family too (Heads Together).

In January, the government also announced that it was to launch a review into mental health practices in the workplace. Led by Lord Dennis Stevenson, a mental health campaigner, and Paul Farmer CBE, Chief Executive Officer at MIND and Chair of the NHS Mental Health Taskforce, the review will focus on how best to support employees with mental health problems, to ensure they can continue to thrive and perform their best at work.

However, as a mental health nurse, one thing that I have struggled to understand is the lack of mental health practitioners in business. I have worked within the NHS for over 15 years, so I can say with experience that the majority of the NHS mental health workforce is made up of mental-health nurses.

Over the past 10 years or so, we have seen the rise of psychological interventions and therapies - in particular, ‘talking therapies’ such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

As a nurse, I, like many others have been trained to deliver many different types of treatments including a variety of psychological interventions - this is via our education, our experience, and ongoing development. We are trained specialists in the identification, assessment, treatment and crisis management of most mental health issues.

Considering the majority of the workforce within the field mental health, are mental health nurses, why do we see very few working within the business world. From my experience, the few that are, have gone on to specialise as Cognitive Behavioural Therapists.

What is more than obvious, is that businesses need to step up and remove some of the burden on the NHS. We need to be adopting a preventative approach.

Last year alone a record 17 million working days were lost, costing the economy at least £2.4billion, according to the UK Statistics Authority. Figures taken from the Labour Force Survey show that such absenteeism has increased by 25 per cent over the past year. This compares with 13.6 million days lost in 2014 and 15.2 million days during 2013. Last year a TUC study revealed that someone in Britain is made ill by stress at work every two minutes.

So what is on offer?

In the business world, of course, we have Employee Assistance Providers. Whilst I believe that in theory, these are a good idea, evidence would suggest that people are just not using them – with a mere 6/7% (this figure is high) taking up this service.

Many companies have in-house Occupational Health Nurses (most often outsourced), who will often see/speak on the phone with the individual first. From experience, who ever speaks to that individual first (GP, OH or manager), if a potential mental health issue is brought up (often via a checklist of symptoms), often the response is to signpost to the EAP where they can access a GP, counseling, therapy, psychology and/or a psychiatrist.

Some companies offer more than others with some training staff in Mental Health First Aid as well as providing Mental Health Networks, Self Help online applications/services and host various well-being seminars/events each year.

So here is the frustrating bit, often the person does not need therapy, psychology or even a psychiatrist. As a 'preventive service', we should also be aiming to ‘prevent’ the requirement for any of these pathways. Now I am not saying that at times, a referral to any of the above is not necessary, but what I am saying, is that it shouldn’t be the first port of call.

I think mental health nurses in business, is simply a no brainer.

What do I believe are the benefits of employing a Mental Health Nurse:

  • They can act as the first point of clinical contact for employees with a potential mental health issue. The MH nurse would triage patients appropriately – therefore initiating the most appropriate interventions and/or onward referral.

  • They could case manage referrals themselves – offering many different interventions including supporting and empowering people to take care of themselves through self-care and self-help.

  • They could reduce the number of referrals to external sources

  • They could provide supervision for Mental Health First Aiders/Champions, Managers and other key stakeholders who are working with those who are experiencing mental ill health

  • They could deliver training on mental health/well-being issues including self-care

  • They could provide support to stakeholders and employees with crisis management and business environment issues.

  • They could provide ongoing support for employees with long term mental health difficulties

  • They could build trusting and supportive relationships with stakeholders and employees, therefore encourage more people to use the service and speak up

  • They could offer strategy advice with regards to wellbeing and employee engagement

  • They could facilitate the development of innovations in corporate mental well-being services

  • They could work collaboratively with others within the business involved in well-being

Above, are just some of the benefits of employing a mental health nurse within a business.

This month, another person committed suicide in the City of London. This simply cannot go on - and as my good friend, Geoff McDonald says 'the time has come to give the mental well-being of their employees the same level of investment priority. This not only makes good business sense but more importantly, it is the right thing to do'.

What are your thoughts?

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