High-vis jackets, hard-hats, corporate suits and mental fitness!

During a stress awareness workshop for managers at a company I will call “macho, engineering and plenty of ex-army types” (MEPET) I admit to being concerned about its success! I am at the clean end of the organisation and provide Occupational Health (OH) support to approximately 1000 staff. I am not directly affected by but am aware of customers changing the goal-posts, parts arriving late and slowing down productivity, dead-lines being brought forward, a sense that management don’t listen or reduced manpower leading to an excess of overtime. I am not directly affected by but am aware of the personal life of the employees; the strained personal relationships at home, the stress of an ageing parent needing extra care, the change in the status-quo brought on by a new baby, seriously ill child or living away from home all week. I am at the clean end, not directly affected by any of this or by the statistics that indicate one in four adults will experience unpleasant symptoms of poor mental fitness in any given year. Your business needs to be aware of all this and it is highly likely to have already been affected.

I have the pleasure of meeting those affected by any of the above in a calm, clean, confidential and non-judgemental space. My role is to support both the business and the employee. I doubt that MEPET is much different to other organisations. It lost almost one year’s worth of working days due to absence caused by poor mental fitness in 2015. Hence the reason for training managers in stress awareness. It’s too soon to see the impact this will make on attendance, but I do know that one department now has “stress” as an agenda point at their team meetings; I have been asked to run a similar themed workshop for their graduates and for other areas of the business. At the induction meetings I can say with confidence that the company recognises the existence of mental health challenges and that support is available via training, OH and the Employee Assistance Programme.

Any of you familiar with driving on the M1 will know that roadwork’s continue to delay our journey! Again, I am feeling similar to when I trained at MEPET, a similar demographic of staff, and this time it’s a Mental Health First Aid Lite course to raise awareness to the road-side workers and CCTV operatives. After a long day’s work, the chaps arrive in their high-vis clothes, hard-hats on the desk, arms folded, and legs stretched out; will the jaffa cakes and Haribo sweets be enough to keep their interest? Of the 9 delegates 2 had been directly affected by suicide, 1 was supporting his daughter with poor mental health and 1 disclosed a past experience of depression. The course was not about providing a therapeutic space and nobody had their arm twisted to force them to share. All went away with new knowledge about the impact vocabulary has on the stigma surrounding mental health, all had the myths around mental health conditions explained and all have access to a toolkit they can dip into to support friends, family and colleagues. What really struck me with this group was that without realising it, a team-building event had taken place. They know each other better, together they have heard the facts about mental fitness from a trained professional, they know how to recognise signs that someone may need support and they learned a formula to help guide someone to get support; in a safety-critical environment or for businesses aspiring to be as successful as possible I can only see the benefits to this.

Mental health, good or less good, affects everyone. Ignoring the facts that one in four adults are negatively affected by reduced mental fitness and that over 70% of suicides in 2014 were male will cost your business. Mental health is rarely black and white, but Mindshift Consultancy certainly won’t deliver pink and fluffy.

I hope that during this year’s men’s mental health week you might consider how well the culture of your organisation currently empowers all employees to speak up and to access appropriate guidance at the earliest possible stage.




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