Recognition of the critical role that mental wellbeing plays in a safe, healthy and productive workforce has come a long way over the last few years. Mental health is not quite the taboo subject it once was, and there are many exciting initiatives promoting good mental health and supporting those who are struggling. Yet members report that one of the main challenges they face is low take up. So, in June we ran six learning events, inviting our members to share their thoughts on tackling the problem.
In total, 62 CIRAS reps offered their ideas and experience on how to address this challenge. Four main reasons emerged why people might not seek help, along with some great potential solutions.
The stigma’s still there
While there’s been huge progress in opening up about mental health, there’s still a long way to go. People may still be reluctant to talk about their mental wellbeing. Members stressed the importance of ‘normalising’ conversations about mental health, by making them part of daily working life. Solutions included putting details of support in company inductions and covering mental health in regular health and safety briefings. Many members reported how important they found it to have trained mental health first aiders across their business, alongside traditional first aiders.
There was recognition that staff may feel reluctant to talk directly to their employer for fear of consequences. Many have set up employee assistance programmes or partnered with local organisations to give staff a confidential, independent route to help. Examples included partnerships with See Me Scotland, NHS’ Healthy Working Lives, and Mates in Mind. Partner arrangements often have the bonus of being more affordable for smaller members.
People don’t know they need help
While it is changing, many workers in transport and construction are still older and male. This demographic may be less likely to realise they need help with their mental wellbeing.
Several participants stressed the power of storytelling here. When peers come forward and share their own experiences, it helps others recognise their own mental health needs. Knowing they are not alone can make it easier to come forward. Often those who have recovered are happy to speak out to help others. One member shared that a colleague posted a poem about his mental health problems on Yammer. At Network Rail, a construction manager who suffered child abuse made a video talking about how the help that received transformed his life. At Southeastern, staff can wear a ‘black dog pin’ if they suffer from depression, sending the message that ‘it’s OK to not be OK’. Several members said that senior managers opening up about their own experiences sent a powerful message to staff.
Culture needs to catch up
Members felt that some companies are jumping on the ’mental health’ bandwagon, paying lip service without supporting change on the ground. Members suggested ways to resolve this:
- Have robust mental health policies and procedures in place – and make sure they are publicised and applied consistently.
- Train senior managers so they genuinely understand why good mental health matters and can lead by example. One member’s senior management established an organisational pledge with the charity Mind, entitled ‘Time to Change’ to signal their commitment.
- Train line managers so they can identify the signs when staff are struggling and initiate the conversations needed to enable them to put people in touch with support.
- Be open to new solutions, such as flexible working to help people cope with stressors both in and outside work.
Furthermore, there’s no quick fix to this – companies need to review and refresh what they are doing regularly to ensure it remains fit for purpose.
People don’t know what’s there or how to access it
Perhaps the simplest thing that members can do is to step up efforts to raise awareness of what’s on offer and make access as easy as possible. Members felt that it can take time and investment to embed mental health support. Suggestions included:
- distribute leaflets or posters setting out what help is on offer
- consider posting information inside toilet doors to protect privacy
- run drop in sessions during Mental Health Awareness Week
- include success stories in internal newsletters
- print pocket cards with key contacts
- create a Staff Wellbeing Awareness Group to promote awareness
- list mental health first aiders on notice boards and/or ensure they have a badge.
During discussions, a few other interesting points came up, which were worth capturing:
- Mental health first aiders and wellbeing champions may need support of their own to help them process any ‘secondary’ trauma which arises. Suggestions included access to a mental health nurse, and a regular peer support meeting.
- Supporting mental health means looking at the causes as well as the symptoms and focusing on prevention.
- Organisational change can be a major trigger for mental health problems, so particular care should be taken to provide support at these times.
- Think laterally about how make it affordable. One member offered a Mental Health First Aid company use their training rooms in return for two free training spaces.