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MHFA England: Taking action on mental health in SMEs

06 Aug 2019

Business woman stressed sitting alone at laptopAs the working world continues to grow its engagement with mental health and wellbeing awareness, more and more businesses are starting to identify the need for specialist training in this area, regardless of company size or sector.

Simon Blake OBE, Chief Executive of IoD campaign contributor MHFA England examines the impact of mental health on SMEs and what resources are available to support each and every business in the following article, which features a link to MHFA’s recent Social Impact Report.

“Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) make up 99% of all businesses in the UK. With 1 in 6 working age adults experiencing mental ill health in any given week[1] it is vital that businesses of all sizes foster inclusive and supportive workplaces. 

Many small business owners do not feel they have the resources – time, people or money – to properly support mental health in their workplaces in the way we have seen many large corporations do in recent years. But the breadth of resources available means that taking action on mental health really is within everyone’s grasp.

And the impact of doing nothing is too great.

The estimated cost of mental ill health for UK employers is £35 billion – or £,1300 for every employee,[2] so as well as being the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense whatever the size of your business.

These figures paint a stark picture. Arguably for SMEs, the impact is more acute. For micro SMEs, for example, if someone is signed off with a mental health issue, suddenly you could lose half of your staff. A recent Aldermore study showed on average, UK SMEs are losing 28 working days a year owing to poor mental health.

Mental health is an issue we cannot afford to ignore any longer. Instead, we are urging employers to take a ‘whole organisation’ approach: thinking about wellbeing across every policy and process. This approach is about creating the conditions for people to thrive and providing pathways to support for when people are struggling with their mental health.

Whatever the size of your company it is critical to approach mental health from top to bottom in a company. Looking at what support structures are in place is as relevant for leaders as it is for employees. The same study from Aldermore also revealed that three quarters (73%) of SME owners have admitted experiencing poor mental health as a result of their job.

No one is expected to be a mental health expert if it is not an area they work in. But we can all take responsibility for learning about the factors that can influence mental health and spotting the signs of poor mental health. And there are resources available to enable organisations of all shapes and sizes to understand how to.

This is also part of the basic framework in providing Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) to a colleague. Even one trained Mental Health First Aider (MHFAider) can have in an impact in an SME, as MHFAiders help create a workplace culture where everyone feels comfortable coming forward to discuss any issues they might be facing.

Having this support on the ground also enables employers to practically implement some of the Government’s core standards for a mentally healthy workplace as set out in the Thriving at Work review

Through our work with over 20,000 organisations over the past decade, we have seen how MHFA England training can help tip the scales and change the way we see and respond to mental ill health in the workplace. As an organisation our mission is to train 1 in 10 of the adult population in mental health awareness and skills to build an unshakeable belief that mental health is equal to that of physical health.

This month we released our first ever Social Impact Report. It shows that we have made a good start in achieving this goal. Over 450,000 people have been trained so far. Based on our current trajectory, we will have trained half a million before World Mental Health Day on October 10th. 

By training with us, businesses are also helping to spread mental health awareness and skills across the country. As part of our social mission we are proud to use our profits to offer free courses, discounts and bursaries to those working with young people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford quality training opportunities.

Ultimately, we want to work together with businesses across the country to improve the mental health of the nation, and we hope it is a journey that employers of all sizes - large, small and medium - will join us on.”

Simon Blake OBE, MHFA England

Simon Blake is the Chief Executive of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England which offers expert workplace guidance and training to support people’s mental health - giving people the tools to better support themselves and each other. Please visit to find out more.

Find out more about MHFA England training at the IOD’s Inclusive Business Events happening over 2019.

Book your ticket for Open House on the Road


[1] McManus S, Bebbington P, Jenkins R, Brugha T. Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014. Leeds; 2016.

[2]  Centre for Mental Health, 2018. Mental health problems at work cost UK economy £34.9bn last year, says Centre for Mental Health. URL:

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