Northern Ireland news

Universities and Aware tackle mental health in the workplace

People in Northern Ireland experience 20-25 per cent higher levels of mental health illness compared to Britain

RESEARCHERS are exploring the link between mental health training and improvements in wellbeing in the workplace.

Queen's University Belfast and Ulster University (UU) are working on a pilot with the charity Aware.

People in Northern Ireland experience 20-25 per cent higher levels of mental health illness compared to Britain.

Around one in five adults are reported to have a diagnosable condition at any given time.

An online stress reduction programme, iAmAWARE, is being created with advice and input from a cross-university research team.

It introduces participants to signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety, offers suggestions for potential coping strategies and stress reduction techniques, and is based on the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy.

The researchers have been working with employees at PwC and the McAvoy Group, who trialled the pilot and took part in focus groups to gauge whether it improved their understanding/symptoms of mental health issues to make a positive difference to wellbeing at work.

Preliminary findings revealed participants were eager to learn about challenges and potential coping mechanisms. They also showed a desire to be involved in the research and to support others facing difficulties.

There was an enthusiasm among participants for the iAmAWARE programme, in particular its interactive and multimedia content.

Dr John Moriarty, principal investigator on the project from Queen's, said work was good for mental health, but a negative environment could lead to physical and mental health challenges.

"There are many effective actions that organisations can take to promote mental health in the workplace; such actions may also benefit productivity. Many employers put facilities such as flexible working and workplace accommodation policies in place but find it difficult to clearly signpost staff to these provisions," he said.

Dr Paula McFadden from UU said employers had a duty of care towards individuals experiencing both physical and mental health challenges.

"Beyond any legal duty these are very human issues affecting all of us. Fear and stigma delays access to support for many people," she said.

"As a cross-university collaboration, we have been studying workplace wellbeing for a number of years and it is encouraging to now see enthusiasm among employers towards taking preventative action at all levels of the organisation to support mental wellbeing."

Marina McCully from Aware said mental health training was not always a priority in the workplace.

"However, in today's busy and constantly changing work environment organisations are now recognising a need to introduce systems and training to support their staff and their wellbeing," she said.

"Online mental health training will allow participants to complete training at a convenient time, easily fitting into their daily work routine and with less disruption to the organisation. This helps to positively impact absenteeism/presenteeism and creates a commitment to staff wellbeing and a more productive workplace."

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