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How retailers are taking on mental health

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Sick days and even sick pay are a widely accepted in the work place. An average of 2.6 per cent of work time is spent in absence due to sickness, costing employers an estimated £16 billion a year.

We’ve all taken a day off because of a cold (or even a hangover). We take an average of seven days a week off work every year. An estimated 40 per cent of these days are due to mental illness.

A quarter of all adults, around 10 million, will experience mental health issues in any given year. Despite being responsible for nearly half of the country's work absences, a massive 90 per cent of people don't feel they could be honest about this being a reason for their absence.

World mental health day next month aims to tackle this issue and help alleviate the stigma felt by people living with mental health issues, and many retailers are introducing initiatives with the same goals.

WHSmith announced its aim to work with Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and have as many “mental health first aiders” in the work place as physical ones within the next 12 months.

RELATED: M&S launch autism-friendly school range

MHFA England chief executive Poppy Jaman welcomed the news.

“To date, over 140,000 people in England are trained in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) skills and whilst there is no quick fix, MHFA is about raising awareness of mental health and helping people on their first step on the journey of improving their mental wellbeing and that of others around them," she said.

“MHFA is the mental health equivalent of physical first aid training and the course trains participants on some core principles which include: spotting the signs of a mental health issue, helping to prevent issues from getting worse, promoting recovery, and giving people the confidence to help someone who is experiencing mental ill health.” 

The initiative encourages awareness among employees and seeks to set an example to other retailers to follow.

“The business is seeking to deliver a comprehensive mental health wellbeing strategy that will not only raise awareness of mental health issues and address the stigma surrounding them, but also provide mental health support to its staff,” Jaman said.

“Through our instructor training programme we offer subsidies to people who have lived experience of mental health issues. 

"Once trained and approved these instructors are then able to generate an income through delivering our courses.”

RELATED: WHSmith on track for solid full year performance

Another company taking an alternative approach to mental health awareness is Marks & Spencer. Last month they launched a range of “autism friendly” school uniforms, researched and designed specifically to overcome issues those with autism face when dressing.

Charlotte Hunt, M&S kidswear technologist said: “The Easy Dressing range has been a huge hit and we have been overwhelmed with all the great feedback from our customers. 

"Our store teams have also given the range lots of support, with many linking in with their local branch of the National Autistic Society and hosting evening events in store for parents to come in and view the range.”

Marks & Spencer have also adopted the same attitude towards their staff members and like WHSmith are planning a campaign for the upcoming mental health awareness day.

“Last year, we launched ‘Dare to Care’ to increase mental wellbeing and resilience at work, which was supported by our biggest ever campaign on mental wellbeing across M&S,” M&S wellbeing manager Beth Ryder said.

“For this year’s World Mental Health Day, we’re combining our activity with National Inclusion Week and bringing inclusion and wellbeing together under the hashtag #daretobeyourself.”

“We’ll be building on last year’s Dare to Care campaign, sharing information, tools and resources to help colleagues understand inclusion and develop their wellbeing. 

"There will be a series of events led by our expert diversity partners representing gender, ethnicity, LGBT+ and wellbeing looking at research, insight and views on the important link between wellbeing and inclusion.”

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Published on Friday 16 September by Ben Stevens

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