Striving to ensure good mental health in Ireland’s workplaces

Ireland has some catching up to do when it comes supporting the good mental health of staff, says the MD of Focused Training Ireland

David Gahan, managing director of Focused Training Ireland: Mental health and mental ill health need to be supported properly in the workplace

We’re all aware of the saying, “a problem shared is a problem halved” – but while we, as a nation, have become much better at opening up to our friends and families about our fears and worries, there is still a long way to go when it comes to voicing concerns at work.

Positive mental health is crucial in the workplace and this is where Focused Training Ireland comes in. Based in Carlow, its mission is to “supply candidates in training with the most up-to-date knowledge and skills surrounding mental health, both within and outside the workplace”. He follows this by saying “people need to know about the early development of mental health issues and where to go if they have a mental health problem, and to have someone in the workplace that is tuned into this is a real benefit for businesses.

David Gahan, the company’s managing director, says not enough is being done to promote good mental health at work, in terms of legislation and guidance for businesses to support staff but, together with mental health professionals, he is hopeful that next year will see more progress in this area.

“Hopefully, with the upcoming 2023 Mental Health Strategy being developed right now, things will improve, as mental health issues in the workplace are an everyday occurrence and we strive to improve the quality of how that support looks within business,” he said.

“But while some businesses will hold a webinar or have speakers come in and conduct a talk for an hour or two, we believe this isn’t enough. And although it is good for awareness and reducing the stigma surrounding mental ill health, for mental health and mental ill health to be supported properly in the workplace, education and knowledge needs to be on par with developing the skillset to have a supportive conversation around someone’s mental ill health, which can be very personal for the individual.

“Compared to England, Ireland is miles behind in terms of numbers trained in mental health at work – and this needs to change or people are going to suffer. Coming from an evidence-based perspective and letting businesses know what does and does not work is vital to ensure businesses are making the right decisions, in regard to the health and wellbeing of its staff.”

Helping to ensure good mental health in workplaces around Ireland, Focused Training Ireland uses counsellors and psychotherapists to conduct training as they believe that “the best trainers are those who have worked closely with clients who have experience in working with mental ill health”.

“All our mental health training is accredited, which means we must abide by very high standards of quality assurance,” said Gahan. “The result is that businesses get standardised training, delivered by people with their finger on the pulse. Our style of training is interactive and engaging. We believe that candidates need to be involved in the material, bringing it to life so it answers some of the questions they have about bringing mental health support into the workplace.

“Sometimes we get resistance from companies about the need for this sort of training, with some saying it’s just another course or programme for them to add to their already long list, which is totally understandable. But there are so many benefits to be had from training staff about mental health – it can help them to recognise the early warning signs and react to stress in a constructive manner. It can also be beneficial in helping to keep a daily check on the mental health and wellbeing of colleagues and to catch problems earlier.

“I think that one of the most valuable aspects of this training for businesses is that they can identify behaviours, provide support and signpost the person to proper mental health services. If businesses are not aware of the behaviours associated with mental health issues, they could be easily misunderstood as something negative, and may treat it as such, getting into a HR situation unnecessarily. And businesses may be applying disciplinary hearings when they may just need to apply reasonable accommodation – so instead, if they are tuned in, educated and have the skillset to manage mental health effectively, it stops a lot of problems coming down the track.”

Award winners

Gahan and his team have just been awarded Corporate Wellness Training Provider of the Year 2022/2023 – in acknowledgement of the high standards of practice they ensure to deliver from experts in the field.

“We are delighted with this win as we have done a lot of work to ensure the most professional people are discussing mental health in the workplace and ensuring that our training standards are objectively high working with awarding bodies to maintain this standard of practice,” said Gahan. “Given that we are one of the few accredited mental health training providers in Ireland, it is great to be recognised and appreciated for it – and the staff are elated with the win

“We are getting busier every quarter and we aim to promote mental health in the workplace and in the community in a meaningful and practical way. We have already broached into England, but we aim to become a bigger provider not just in Ireland, but in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“We believe there is a market for this across the water as we are able to provide answers to problems – it’s a matter of looking at different legislation surrounding mental health in those countries and developing a strategy. So our staff are really dedicated to this and we believe we will soon have a market share in the UK.

The Manager Director finishes by: “We want to create a clearer vision of what mental ill health looks like so people can support and understand effectively.”