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Brian Dow, Chief Executive, Mental Health UK

Brian Dow, Chief Executive, Mental Health UK

 

The key approach combines top down and bottom up. On the basis that everyone has mental health, leaders being open about their own mental health – the steps they take to maintain and protect it helps create a norm. Equally allowing employees to find ways to elevate the conversation makes a huge difference. Think of it in three steps

1. Preventative – sending the signals in your recruitment that you are a mentally healthy employer. Encouraging people to declare if they have an existing mental health problem; doing some clear benchmarking; training managers on how to have constructive conversations around this issue

2. Early intervention – stepping in when someone is becoming ill; encouraging a degree of flexibility, small enhancements that might make a big difference (eg a quiet space), employee assistance programmes, using case studies for people to talk about their mental health etc

3. Postvention – having good policies so that if someone has gone off ill and is returning you help break the cycle. WRAP – wellness action return plans make a huge difference

Brett Townsley, Director, OSi:

In terms of stigma we are of course dealing with several factors such as societal disapproval, the tough guy culture within our industry, and also unintentional stigma created within the industry.

As an industry we create unintentional systemic stigma by devaluing mental health within the workplace. The message is both physical and emotional wellbeing must be treated equally. Yet while we invest heavily with time, effort and money in both reactive and preventative measures for physical safety in the workplace including on things such as investigation, root cause analysis, measurement and prevention, we however do not do the same for mental health or emotional safety. By doing this we devalue mental health, and provide an inconsistent message that signals to our workforce physical safety is more important than emotional safety. When In fact we have a legal and moral duty to prevent both. Consider this if we are told on a regular basis two things are of equal importance but only one gains any investment in terms of finances, time and effort, then how could we expect anyone to interpret them as equal. If we want people to understand emotional hazards, identify them and prevent them then we must invest in the systems to aid them, just as we do with physical safety.

Sripad Gopala, Chief Operating Officer, Imrandd:

There are many social stigmas attached to mental health, particularly in the workplace. In tough, high pressure environments such as oil and gas, people are expected to work long hours, sometimes away from home. There’s a common perception that people should just get on with it or “man up” if things go wrong. Thankfully we are seeing a change in mindset and a commitment from employers to provide more support. At Imrandd we focus on having, open, honest and frank discussions. We strive to provide a safe environment where disclosing and speaking out about mental health is not considered a weakness, and we offer support and flexibility to our workforce to help them manage any aspect of their mental health that may cause them anguish or concern.

How does an organisation ensure they’re actively monitoring and supporting the workforce when it comes to mental health?

Brian Dow, Chief Executive, Mental Health UK:

I hope that answer above helps answer so the only thing I would add is to make sure you do not “problematise” it. When someone declares they are having a problem, allowing them to be part of the solution is key. You will engender loyalty and trust. Also make sure you are clamping down on stigmatising language as this can really make people wary of talking about their health. Lastly models like the stress bucket really help – see Mental Health UK website

Brett Townsley, Director, OSi:

We manage what we monitor, so think does your business have a mental health policy or assessment of emotional hazards? Does the business have leading and lagging indicators for mental health? If not how can we monitor or support. Currently we are reliant upon conventional methods in terms of mental health, which means we are not monitoring it rather simply reacting to issues. We apply these once the individual is exhibiting signs of mental health issues or when the person has in fact moved into struggling or crisis mode. At this stage we are simply applying care to the individual this is of course a requirement, however we should be applying preventative measures to identify the emotional hazards that moved the individual from the coping stage into struggling or crisis. Our attention is focused on application of the plaster rather than hazard prevention. By creation of bespoke systemic solutions we can use our data to identify, measure, monitor, prevent and or reduce our mental health workplace issues. If we really want to support our workforce this must be the goal.

Sripad Gopala, Chief Operating Officer, Imrandd:

Fundamentally, you need to ensure your management understand the factors that affect mental wellbeing in and outside the workplace. Training may be needed for management to adequately address and communicate with employees. It’s also important to identify and review the processes and support mechanisms you have in place to assess the impact this has. Ensuring inclusiveness, diversity and flexible working will enhance morale and workforce engagement, this in turn boosts productivity, confidence and self-worth.

What would you say to someone reading this who’s struggling with any aspect of their mental health?

Brian Dow, Chief Executive, Mental Health UK:

Try to be open with someone you trust. Although things are changing the prevalence of mental health problems means that you are almost certainly likely to be speaking to someone who has some sort of experience of it through family or friends. And remember your employer has a legal duty to support their staff and not discriminate. Also, on the basis that mental ill health is the single biggest cause of absenteeism if you can help your employer help you then you are almost certainly helping your business shape its practice to improve its bottom line.

Brett Townsley, Director, OSi:

Firstly, remember you are not alone, we all experience mental health on a continuous basis moving from coping, struggling and crisis. If you have begun to identify in ourselves or those around us difficulties in coping with mental health issues, we must engage with someone for a safe space conversation, this is known as shared worrying. This is the point our interventions such as first aid for mental health come to the fore, having trained skilled individuals to assist and facilitate these types of interventions are critical in terms of signposting those in need to the right type of support. However as an employer, we should be assessing how the emotional distress was created and applying solutions to prevent re-occurrence.

Sripad Gopala, Chief Operating Officer, Imrandd:

Life is exceptionally tough for everyone right now, and it may seem impossible to open up. However finding someone you can trust – either a friend, family member or someone at work who you can talk to - is the first step in getting the support you need. Your employer has a moral and legal duty of care to look after you, so don’t be embarrassed or worried about talking things through and making them aware. Often even the biggest of problems are solved by talking things through and seeking out support.

As an employer, are there signs to look out for to identify if someone is struggling with their health & wellbeing?

Sripad Gopala, Chief Operating Officer, Imrandd:

It’s hard to pinpoint any one sign or symptom, and so I believe a manager should really take the time to know their employees, so they can quickly notice anything that may seem out of character. For example, if a typically quiet or shy person suddenly becomes argumentative, that can be an indication. Or when a gregarious person becomes withdrawn, that can be another. Because we are a tight-knit community at Imrandd, we have experienced instances where these sorts of observations have been the avenue to open up the conversation and identify whether someone is struggling. And of course, both physical and mental health is often a matter of privacy, so there’s not always an obligation or expectation that someone needs to share.

How can an employer approach an employee about concerns without overstepping?

Sripad Gopala, Chief Operating Officer, Imrandd:

Normalising conversations, creating awareness sessions, challenging perceptions and ensuring people feel comfortable - these are all good ways of encouraging more open dialog around mental health awareness. At Imrandd we offer a supportive environment where employees feel they can speak up about their health and not feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk. We offer confidentiality in all conversations and provide sign-posting to mental health resources.

Read the latest issue of the OGV Energy magazine HERE.

Published: 14-12-2020

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