Assistant Editor , SHP

November 23, 2022

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mental health

‘The time is now, the business of tackling people’s mental health has to be a priority’ – Peter Kelly from Mates in Mind

Last month at the 12th annual British Safety Council conference, Peter Kelly from Mates in Mind addressed the audience urging that we need to act now as the “storm” around mental health continues to rage.

Peter Kelly

Peter Kelly, Head of Programme at Mates in Mind

As a previous inspector at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Kelly discussed how he used to see “genuine consequences of poor mental health on site” but was trained to look for performance influential factors. However, he called on delegates to focus on health as having a direct impact to people’s safety.

“I used to think, what else was happening on the site that led to that fatal accident,” he said, “…a lot of the time we never addressed the psychological element of what’s going on in peoples’ heads, and how that drives them forward. There’s a reason why there’s 141 people that died last year, we need to understand why.”

Kelly described the “two tectonic plates” of the economic recession and pandemic, both of which “causes mental ill-health increases”. Examining statistics from the World Health Organization, he said, “The wave is here […] 25% increase in depression and anxiety and stress during lockdown. 25%. One in five is now one in four going down towards one in three.

“The issue is that we’ve stopped talking about it, we’ve stopped engaging with it. For me, we have a storm, now do we prevent it, or do we treat it and try and cure it?

“It’s a call to action – You cannot sit back now and do nothing, you cannot say it’s too hard, you can’t put it in the box ‘we’re not going to address’, because at 17.9 million days lost to work-related stress and 822,000 people off one week into the pandemic – this is a crisis.

“We have to have conversations about mental health and work-related stress.”

Kelly explained how the pandemic effected people both biologically and psychologically, with the combination having a detrimental effect on mental health. “Throw in a global recession,” he continued, “which increases uncertainty and impacts people’s health with money worries, cost of living crisis – combine all that with the two-year period where we are completely exposed and in a recession then we’ve got the perfect mix. Because actually, we didn’t teach people to manage and cope with a global pandemic did we?

“What we didn’t do is teach people to actually communicate, and do the support side of things, we thought putting someone in front of a screen was enough – It wasn’t enough. We thought putting builders out on to work sites on their own to work because they couldn’t work closely was ok – it wasn’t. The consequences of some of the things we did in the pandemic we will reap, but this is why we need to act now.”

“We need to be preventing,” he urged “if you constantly buy into the fact that you can’t prevent, you will never change this”. Kelly likened the massive scale of the problem to that of asbestos, which he said was difficult to manage yet was achieved.

“The time is now, the business of tackling people’s mental health has to be a priority”, he concluded.

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Anita Steyn
Anita Steyn
1 year ago

Very insightful and so true. Truly a challenge for organisations.