Mental Health – no longer the elephant in the room

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In a recent report on ITV News journalist, Mary Stanley highlighted firefighters Stu Vince & Adam Bundle of Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service and their mission to get people talking about how they feel.

We frequently hear about the increased risks that men face of suicide and unaddressed poor mental health. Because of the conditioning that men have generally had growing up they often struggle to share their feelings. For those working in emergency services, it can be tough given what they experience each day. Both male and female officers and firefighters can find that tradition & culture suggests they “man-up’ or use laughter and black-humour to get them through whatever they encounter in their work. Thankfully this is starting to change, but the pace of change is far too slow for the current generation of officers.

Stu was diagnosed with severe anxiety, depression and PTSD after surgery and both had been impacted by the pressures and strains of working on the front line of the emergency services where trauma is every present.

‘we have both had to overcome some form of mental health problem during their working life. Coping with the loss of colleagues at work, the regular pressures of making life and death decisions whilst attending a wide variety of life-threatening incidents, or daily pressures such as keeping a roof over their families head. It’s of no surprise then that over the last few years we all have witnessed a dramatic increase in mental health issues in the workplace and we are determined to do something about it, for everyone.’

Stu and Vince are now making a real difference by talking openly and publically. Both having trained as Mental Health First Aiders and are showing their colleagues and others that it is ok to open up about your mental health to someone trusted or mental health professional. They are now preparing to go into other workplaces to share their experiences and to show those they meet that it is ok to talk.

The impact advocates and educators like these have goes far beyond those they are working directly with. It is not uncommon for mental health issues to extend beyond the primary person – in this case, the firefighter – and cross over to having a significant impact on their loved ones and friends. Work such as that done by Stu and Vince and the awareness that they are raising can have far-reaching benefits.

As Stu and Vince are coming into the next phase of their work supporting those impacted by poor mental health. To raise awareness they will be rowing across the Atlantic in 2020, they are also looking to support Mind Solent through their work. You can find out more about their mission and contribute at their JustGiving page: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/atlanticrowingchallenge2020

The Flexmind team recognise the individual courage of Stu and Vince, not least of all for the work they do in their day to day jobs, but also for the bravery they have shown sharing how they feel and talking about what they have gone through. We know the huge effort it has taken on their part to do all of this.

Flexmind’s founder Brian Tancock was well aware of the trauma that his late father experienced in his role as a police officer with the Metropolitan Polic. Through working with a client who is an ex-firefighter, turned Doctor & Clinical Psychologist with a particular focus on PTSD and Trauma and other trauma specialists we have developed a deep passion for supporting those affected by poor mental health as a result of what they have experienced in their work lives. A number of our team members have also experienced first hand how even those in so-called ‘normal’ low-risk office jobs are frequently impacted by their experiences at work.

You can see the full report by Mary Stanley for ITV News and watch the video at: https://www.itv.com/news/meridian/2019-08-15/i-wouldn-t-wish-it-on-anyone-hampshire-firefighters-open-up-about-their-mental-health/

Flexmind  have a deep understanding of mental health, risk, regulation and business processes provide the consultancy, advisory, educational and support services, including psychologists and trauma specialists to help the emergency services and any type of organisation work towards doing better for their people and better managing the risk to the organisation. Contact us today to find out more about how we can help you setup up the right framework and start tackling workplace-related mental health issues head-on.

Brian Tancock
Director & Founder

Flexmind Ltd
https://flex-mind.com 
email: [email protected]

Mental Health – no longer the elephant in the room

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This week the BBC ran a story on its Newsbeat site ‘Ex-student sues Cambridge University over harassment complaint’.

‘A former student says she’s suing the University of Cambridge over the way it dealt with her harassment complaint.

Dani Bradford, 21, says she’s taken the action because she “wants things to change for other students”.

The university upheld a complaint she made about being sent “sexualised” text messages – but Dani isn’t happy with the way it handled her case.

Cambridge University says it “takes the personal safety of its students very seriously”.’

The concerns raised by Dani Bradford for her ongoing support and welfare after the event are without doubt wellfounded and reasonable. The has the right to continue to study in an environment that provides the support and reassurance that she needs. The trauma faced by people in her situation is both very real and substantial. It is also very common.

Our minds then turn to the University of Cambridge. There’s no reason to doubt that they take the personal safety of students very seriously.  But like most institutions, likely there is much more that can be done, even if they already meet all central and local government requirements and adhere to commonly understood standards in this area. Reliance upon often outdated regulation, guidelines and risk assessment that are often not fit for purpose can leave organisations woefully exposed if they are ever brought before a Judge.

Unfortunately, such stories are all too common, whether it is related to workplace harassment or in this case within an academic setting. Every day far too many people are having to say #metoo for the first time as they just joined the ranks of those who have been abused or harassed.

Protecting students through preventative measures such as education, the setting of standards and expectations as to what constitutes appropriate or inappropriate behaviour, developing the concept of permission-based interaction and developing healthier cultures and behaviours all need more work.  …and we don’t mean a knee-jerk intervention by the anti-fun police.

But there is more these organisations need to do. Firstly they need to get this right for the people over which they have a duty of care. That includes the students, their lecturers and the wide variety of academics, staff and third-parties working at, visiting or simply passing through a universities premises.

Then there is the need to get it right for the organisation or institution. This article focuses on Universities, but the exact same scenario exists within any public or private sector institution.  Get it wrong and there are significant financial, legal and reputation risks to the organisation.  Those doubting this, only have to look at the impact of not being in control of sexual harassment for organisations such as the UK Parliament, Stanford and Uber. Stanford, that hallowed of institutions found global notoriety in January 2015 with the now infamous Standford Rape Case.  One of the key reasons they struggled to get their London license renewed was because they weren’t seen to be protecting their passengers or responding to complaints sufficiently. The Mayor Of London took action in this case, and if such an action plays out badly it can still cost billions.

So in this day and age, where transgressions can go viral and can be reported on within minutes by any number of news institutions global it is important to be able to demonstrate that you’ve done everything reasonably possible to protect those that you have direct or even indirect responsibility for.

It’s no longer good enough to rely on the old line ‘…. takes the safety of its staff and ….. very seriously’.

Quite simply as an organisation you have to be able to demonstrate that you’ve done everything possible and can back this up by demonstrating that you have educated, challenged and changed processes, tracked, monitored, responded to complaints and had independent decision making of issues and scrutiny over what you have done.

Whoever is responsible for risk in your organisation and you should have a Chief Risk Officer or equivalent, needs to have issues like this on the very top of their agenda. It’s time that they stopped trying to weather the storm, relying on insurance cover, recommending compensation and Non-Disclosure Agreements to victims, accepting such issues as a ‘cost of dealing with the public’ etc and look to address the real root cause. Asking why such problems occur and looking at the root cause will likely end up looking at Senior Management, Processes, Culture etc. It won’t be an easy process and will require many leaders to look carefully at themselves, but ignoring it is no longer an option.

And in a case such as that with Dani Bradford at Cambridge,  when something hasn’t gone quite right, you’ll need to be able to provide support and care to mitigate the impact, cost and trauma experienced and to help the people through and beyond the event successfully and positively for all parties concerned.  And you might just have to be prepared to write a pretty sizable cheque if you don’t – compensation, fines and repairing reputation damage, lost revenue etc don’t come cheap these days.

Partners such as Flexmind who have a deep understanding of mental health, risk, regulation and business processes provide the consultancy, advisory, educational and support services, including psychologists and sexual abuse specialists to help Universities, Businesses and the Public Sector work towards doing better for their people and better managing the risk to the organisation.  Contact us today to find out more about how we can help you setup up the right framework and start tacking sexual abuse head-on.

Brian Tancock
Director & Founder

Flexmind Ltd
https://flex-mind.com 
email: brian.tan[email protected]

 

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

Mental Health – no longer the elephant in the room

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People manage their mental health in different ways but unlike our physical health accessing advice, getting support and the right sort of help for maintaining our mental wellness hasn’t been as simple as calling the GP for an appointment, going to the surgery, and  getting a prescription. Depression, trauma/PTSD, anxiety, stress, are conditions which can – and do – affect anyone, at any time.

We spend most of our lives in our workplace, whether it’s in an office, a factory, out in a field, on the high seas, or working from home, our workplaces play a huge role in shaping our state of mind and in driving how we perceive, react and respond to situations.

Workplaces are an interesting melting pot of people. Not just their different backgrounds, ethnicities and age groups, there are also the unseen aspects of people and their lives, their stories and their experiences which have shaped them and define who they are, and yet we usually know either very little or nothing at all about them and what makes them tick, what drives them, how they see themselves, and why they are who they are.

I always keep in mind the old saying about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, in my view it best sums up how and why we all need to be aware of the unknown unknowns in the workplace especially when we think about mental health. And not just at work but also in our interest groups, networks, circles of friends, in our neighbourhoods and in our communities.

Throughout my career I’ve had experiences in dealing with those “difficult employees” who were off on “long-term sickness” due to stress; it’s fair to say that years ago it was generally regarded by many – including CEOs and executives as well as the general workforce – that the culprits were skiving or taking an extended sickie to avoid doing their job while still enjoying the benefits of the position.

Back then the whole “stress” situation was dealt with like a delicate dance around the corridors in which only HR and the appropriate line manager would be involved, kid gloves on and handling the stressed employee delicately like porcelain for fear of prodding the hibernating bear into taking aggressive, retaliatory action against the company. In these situations the focus was more geared towards the employment law legalities and managing the potential financial impact on the company rather than looking at how the company could take a more strategic approach to addressing how to get an employee back into a workplace which would be not only welcoming but also aware, supportive, encouraging and sympathetic, and without stigma and repercussions. Although there was some level of sympathy for the “difficult employee”, it was always said (behind closed doors) that the place would be better off without him or her the sooner they decide to just take a few months in lieu as a pay-off and go away for good.

Taking a long, hard look at the culture of the workplace – the working habits, the behaviour of the superiors and managers, communication, and the tone set by the leadership – was rarely, or usually never, up for discussion.

In other words:

  • there was no awareness of how or why it happened: how did we get there, are / were we part of the problem?
  • the company had no strategy for addressing how to prevent the next case,
  • creating a world of work where the benefits of tackling the root cause of the problem was never ever considered – no vision, no real self-analysis, no lightbulb moment.

There are many stories out there of people in high pressure positions who have self-managed their mental health.

One of the most famous examples is that of Sir Winston Churchill. For all his resilience and strength he was prone to bouts of depression, his “black dog” as he referred to it. His way of managing it was to work long hours and keep his mind occupied.

This approach is not unusual, and millions around the world do just that to fight off depression and other mental health challenges. For some it works and for many others, it doesn’t; trying to work through depression or prolonged anxiety or stress can only make it worse, often with devastating consequences for the individual, their families, and their colleagues.

Others have proactively highlighted the need to take time off for their mental wellness and have done just that – shutdown the computer, switched off the ‘phone, and taken a break, only to return in far better mental and physical shape ready to tackle the most daunting challenges.

It’s important we recognise that people handle – or don’t handle – their mental health in a way that is most effective for them.

One final word on Work-Life Balance – something which is often talked about, rarely is it a reality. It’s a tired cliché. Some organisations go out of their way to highlight their credentials when it comes to Work-Life Balance:

  • family friendly
  • flexible working hours
  • work from home policies
  • no meetings after 5 pm
  • leave your phone at home when you go on vacation,

and on it goes. But very rarely is this the reality in our globalised and interconnected world.

Yet this very simple concept, if followed and practised at every level of an organisation, could just help to make enough of a difference in tipping the balance when it comes to helping to improve mental health in the workplace.

But it has to be driven by the leadership as part of de-stigmatising mental health.

Mental health is no longer taboo, it is no longer an outlier, it is no longer the elephant in the room.

As business leaders we can all play our part in pointing out the elephant in the room, embracing it as common ground and as a unifying factor which can drive a healthier, more harmonious, and successful workplace.

Flexmind works with businesses to develop and implement strategies and programmes which improve mental health in the workplace. Our unique approach goes beyond just raising awareness – we work with our clients to tackle the causes of poor workplace mental health and delivers better outcomes for staff, management and boards through transforming culture, capability and resilience, and enhancing corporate performance. If you have any concerns about workplace mental health, or if you simply just want to know more, we’re here to help. Connect with us confidentially via our Contact page
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