How do we change the culture of mental health in the workplace?

Here are five things we know already…

  1. Directly or indirectly, 9 out of 10 people are affected by mental ill health.
  2. They can impact anyone, at any time and sometimes for no apparent reason.
  3. On average, poor mental health costs UK businesses £1,500+ per employee per year.
  4. There are still stigmas around mental health and we often discriminate against them, whether we mean to or not.
  5. It can change but too little is being done.

I’m Peter. I’m a professional in the field of mental health prevention. I want to explore five ways we can change the culture of the workplace.


1. Support first, manage second

There is a statistic that says 1 in 5 employees feel they will be put first in line for redundancy if they disclose a mental health issue with their manager.

When you work in a culture of ‘performance above all,’ this fear keeps so many from accessing the support that is available to them. It’s a lose-lose situation for the employee and the business.

Work stress is correlated with mental health issues, so if you’re scared of repercussions for showing weakness and asking for help, things just get worse in a vicious circle.

Where does this fear come from? Certainly a degree of work stress is just part of the package when you have goals to achieve. The problem creeps in due to a management-style that treats the employee as a ‘problem to be solved’ rather than a person to be supported.

I certainly wouldn’t want to share a personal struggle with a manager like that.

If your company is primarily results-driven instead of values-driven, the danger is that your workplace culture will chew up and spit out incredible talent (talent that you have already invested in) when they inevitably something stressful gets to them. If results are the main driver then there can be casualties.

For those of us who are in leadership, the only way forward is to take off our manager hats and start supporting the person first and foremost. Support first, manage second.


2. It starts at the top

Changing culture goes all the way to the top. The values of the leadership work their way down through an organisation.

If a senior manager sees mental health training as another box to be ticked it will not give you the results you’re looking for. It requires sincere empathy and focus.

Despite being known for a very-aggressive and competitive company culture, do you know what Apple looks for the most when hiring for their stores?

Empathy. It’s repeated throughout their highly-secretive training manual. They also take quite a hostile attitude towards insincerity. That’s part of the reason why they’re the most profitable per-square-foot retail space of any chain in the world.

The values a leader sets for their company are the most influential factors in a workplace culture. It sets the criteria of success for everyone who works for them. It builds a place where your people deliver their best and talent sticks around.

Have a value for mental health by demonstrating a high value for empathy.


3. Everyone from the CEO to the cleaner gets involved

Once the top levels of your organisation understand the importance of mental health, the best way forward is to get everyone involved. From the CEO to the cleaner.

Mental health illnesses can happen to any one of your staff, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, sexuality or position in your company.

Different levels of training are warranted depending on the role. Not everyone needs to be a ‘first aider.’ However, just as everyone needs to know where the fire exits are, absolutely everyone needs to know basic mental health safety at work.

After-all, mental health issues have harmed far more people than fires ever have.

The silver lining to all of this is we know that prevention is better than cure. If we can do this right, we can save so much money, time and effort.

You need a mental health plan for your company. One that gives every single person in your organisation the necessary skills for basic mental health safety at work. One that has qualified ‘first aiders’ in each team.


4. Investment needs to be made

At the moment the annual cost of mental ill health is estimated at £105.2 billion. How much does it cost to replace a core member of your team? Anywhere between £35,000 to £100,000 per person?

If your company invested even a tiny fraction of that money into a prevention scheme, you’d be ahead.

Sometimes only once we understand what the problem costs us do we make the necessary actions to change. Investment is needed. The only relevant question is, how much are you willing to lose before you’re ready to take action?


5. Start now

Changing the workplace culture is possible but it only starts when you take action.

Poor mental health is affecting our productivity, our retention of talent, our profit margins. Most importantly, it’s affecting the wellbeing of friends and colleagues around us.

Training is a practical first step. It teaches you how to respond no matter what the situation is so you can know what action to take.

Book on a course or attend an event and start that journey today.



Peter Larkum is an award-winning Mental Health First Aid instructor (Elite, Gold Standard Award). Peter delivers mental health first aid course in companies across England and lives in Winchester, along with his wife and three young children.

If you would like to attend or send your team to a MHFA course in Winchester or London, please visit to find a date that suits you.

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