Safety Bytes: Poppy Jaman CEO MHFA England

Safety Bytes: Poppy Jaman CEO Mental Health First Aid England
by Mike Colton, July 2017

‘Safety bytes’ are a series of short videos published regularly online for the health and safety industry.  In this series, we talk to a variety of people working in the industry, from education providers, membership bodies and academics, through to CEOs and leaders from across the health and safety industry.

In the third edition Irwin & Colton meet Poppy Jaman - CEO Mental Health First Aid England and non-executive director for Public Health England.

In this video, Poppy discusses, Why mental health has risen up the health and safety agenda so rapidly? What are some basic steps one can take to improve mental health? What an organisation can do to improve mental health in the work place? 

Mental Health First Aid England’s mission is to train one in ten of the population in England in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) skills. By reducing stigma through understanding, they hope to break down barriers to the support that people may need to stay well, recover, or manage their symptoms – to thrive in learning, work and life.

A transcript can be found below and to watch the video please follow the link  

Why has mental health risen up the health and safety agenda?

I think mental health has risen up the health and safety agenda for three main reasons.  First of all I think there has been a real understanding of the fact that mental wellbeing is not just about preventing risk, its about encouraging our workforce and our people to thrive, and for the workplace to be a place where health is created and not just risk of illness being prevented, or risk of harm being prevented.  I think that’s an amazing place to be in terms of our society, and our thinking around what is acceptable and our impression of why we go to work and our motivations to work.  It’s not just about earning an income its about life and wellbeing.  Workplaces are about people, and if we don’t look after our people then we’re not going to be making the kind of profit and running a business in the way that we want to.  So critical to success is people being health and well, and good people make good businesses and thriving organisations.

What are the key indicators of mental health distress?

There are lots of tell-tale signs that someone might actually be experiencing some level of mental health distress, or mental distress.  Some of them are physical, and again many of you will be able to relate to these, tiredness, loss of appetite or eating too much, not being able to hold a conversation, feeling irritable, not being able to concentrate for long periods of time.  I think that the thing that you’re looking for in yourself or in others is change.  So someone that looks smart all the time might actually start looking a little bit scruffy, some that looks scruffy might actually start looking really smart!  I’ve got a colleague who does that, when she’s not feeling great, she starts looking great and I have to ask, ‘what’s wrong with you?’.  So for me it’s about noticing change, if you know someone or if you know yourself and you’re beginning to behave in a way that is different to how you would normally behave, or if you’re beginning to respond to situations in a way that you wouldn’t normally. That’s when we all need to stop and reflect and work out what’s going on for us.  For me the tell-tale signs are unique to all of us, there are some physical things but actually its about noticing change within ourselves which may on the surface look positive, or negative.

What is the best first step to improve mental health?

There are some really basic steps that we can all take to look after our mental health.  I think the first thing that we all need to be fully aware of is that we have got mental health, often the term mental health brings up images and thoughts of people in distress, images that the media has portrayed to us which are negative and we all kind of think, that’s about somebody else over there.  For me, the first major step for taking care of our own mental health, and those around us, is acknowledging that we all have mental health.  Sometimes we can get mentally ill, we can get distressed and actually there is help for that.

What additional steps can people take?

Its the same things as physical health and wellbeing.  Its about being active, its about getting a good level of sleep that’s right for our bodies, its about mood and food, bad food bad mood, there is a lot of evidence about the impact that food has on us, and its about good relationships.  Relationships are critical to life and wellbeing, if we haven’t got good relationships at work or at home its going to be a big stressor. The key, is understanding, that what keeps us physically well also keeps us mentally well.

What can companies do to approach mental wellbeing in the workplace?

The first step is about creating an opportunity to have a conversation as an organisation.  So that might be done through an event for example, I think the second step is getting leadership to sign up, but not just leadership sign up on saying ‘we should do good mental health’ its about finding somebody in your company who is willing to talk about their experience, their personal experience of mental health in terms of supporting someone or going thorugh a journey themselves. Talking about that in a way that allows other people within the organisation, more junior people within the company, feel confident to come forward and feel like it’s a safe place to be having a conversation around mental health. 

So the first step is raising awareness and engaging leadership, then about having a conversation around people with lived experiences and bringing that to the fore, and then I would suggest there’s the strategy piece.  So from this process you will actually find people from within your company that will tell you what they need, and I would go back to the 5 steps to help look after yourself.  Its about encouraging people to sleep better, eat better, drink more water, be active and have conversations and if your strategy is geared around those 5 areas, its going to work.

Parity of esteem.

Parity of esteem can be achieved from my perspective, by reviewing the health and safety at work act.  If the legislation is there for physical first aiders then it makes complete sense to me that mental health first aiders should be included in that.  That’s one simple, but big thing that we can do as a nation to change the culture of mental health in the workplace, change perception of it and create true parity. 

I think its important though, when we are discussing parity of esteem in relation to physical first aiders and mental health first aiders, that we are very careful not to apply the physical first aider model to the mental health first aider model. Mental health first aid is about anybody that is responsible for people being able to have good quality conversations around mental health in order to prevent people getting unwell, but also signpost to the right place.  Therefore, the model of application and implementation would have to be thought through very carefully. But that is one small win, that would make a massive difference.

With thanks to Poppy Jaman – CEO – Mantal Health First Aid England, for more information visit

To watch the full interview follow

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Mike Colton is a Director at Irwin & Colton a specialist UK based Health and Safety recruitment consultancy. For more information please contact or +44 (0)207 096 1622

Posted on Tuesday Aug 1