Head Of Training, The Healthy Work Company

June 21, 2017

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Opinions: How to address mental health in the workplace

A mental health panel debate, featuring a broad range of experts, took place in Safety & Health Expo’s 2017 keynote theatre. Below is a summary of the speakers’ key points.

Mental health debate at Safety & Health Expo 2017

Martin Coyd

Head of Health and Safety – Construction, Mace

“Working in construction, I personally stumbled into mental health. And, in March this year I fully understood the problem, after an ONS report was published which looked at suicides by profession. 454 construction workers took their lives in one year – four times the national average. It’s a great industry but it’s a tough one, with long hours. There are an enormous amount of people in the industry who need help and it just takes a bit of courage to stand up and ask for help.

Women are equally as likely to get depression but twice as likely to seek help. Men need to stop asking other men “are you ok?” and they need to start saying “how are you?” and then we need to listen, not provide a solution – just listen.

“We don’t need to over complicate this. Everyone has been touched by mental health in some way. It’s there for each and every one of us. We need to give people direction.

“In sports teams and construction teams – if our mental health is in a good place – the team is in a good place. Good mental health is the big goal in health and safety.”

Dame Kelly Holmes

“We are all human. In my opinion, we need to be more blatantly open about the help available for people with mental ill health. If you have a physical health problem you will know what help is there, but it’s not always clear with mental ill health – there’s a lot of lip service going on.

There needs to be more human contact and obvious ideas about the help people can get.

“The best organisations invest in this leadership. Not just someone having it as part of their role. It has to be top down and bottom up. Whether it’s sleep pods, taking time off during the day, or just having a company that believes in you”.

Mary Lawrence

Partner, Osborne Clarke LLP

“In terms of leadership, from a legal perspective – we need to work out the risk. Look at the risk that might apply – then look at your specific business. Leaders should start at that point and then look at all the layers of management.

Many people ask if mental health is an HR or OSH function. I advocate using skills that already exist so HR may be good from an occupational health point of view, and OSH may be better at risk assessment. This isn’t an argument or point scoring. It’s a multidiscipline approach.

“In some terms, like the others have said, it is simple – but for practitioners – what mental ill health means and how it exhibits is more complicated. I think this is about education.”

Dave Lee

Co-founder, A Deeper Understanding Limited (ADUL)

“Working in construction, I drank heavily to deal with the stresses of the job. Once I put down the booze, I went on a personal development journey, gained an understanding of mental ill health, and aimed to improve the quality of my workers’ mental health – talking about a way to make real lasting change.

Once you get an understanding at a deeper level it can change your life.

“It was when I realised how thoughts create feelings, that I stopped diagnosing myself as depressed and stopped taking anti-depressants.”

Dr Carolyn Yeoman

Principal Organisational Psychologist, HSL

“Our perspective is to eliminate sources of stress. There is lots of help available once people are made ill, but we don’t want it to get to that point. We are pushing for the proactive management of work related stress.

Helping people to pick up on symptoms of someone who may be struggling and helping organisations to equip their leaders with the tools to spot these signs and the ability to know what to do is key.

“If you use the same process for mental health as you do for safety and use multidisciplinary teams – working together to achieve this – it can be achieved relatively easily. It’s not reinventing the wheel.”

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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