I am a practising engineer, Fellow of the Institution and ICE, Chartered Director and a mental health first aider.
My interest in mental health came to a head when our youngest son took his own life at University. Mental health has become a passion for me and has given me the opportunity to present to a spectrum of business groups and to appear on BBC Breakfast.
My thoughts are based on observation and talking to many people who are struggling with mental health issues. I do wonder if I attract people who need to talk, or just that there are so many of us experiencing difficulties.
Unlike many physical health issues, people are very good at hiding their problems and the stigma which still exists around mental health encourages them to do so. My simple list of symptoms, observed as a group and over time, could indicate mental health problems:
- Increased absence
- Persistent tiredness
- Changes in social interaction at work
- Changes in attitude to work
- Difficulty in completing tasks
- Anxiety about simple things
- Changes in habits in general
In our consultancy business, difficulty in writing reports has been observed as a particular difficulty for those struggling with mental health problems.
It is important to recognise that all individuals are different. They handle the issues differently, the extent to which they can, or will, engage at work varies enormously.
In my view the company policy needs to be flexible, to recognise that needs do vary. A rigid policy, which sets out a process, who to report to and what forms to fill in will not give the best outcome. I have worked through our staff, taking groups of around five people at a time and talking to them informally about mental health.
This has often resulted in one of the group asking to talk one to one afterwards. On many occasions it has been clear in the meeting who will ask for that.
I have suggested all staff should have a buddy. Someone they can talk to openly without concerns about criticism, or dismissal of their problems. Not everyone wants to do this, which is entirely understandable.
One of the biggest hurdles I have found is changing the attitude of colleagues towards those with mental health problems. The need to cover for others when they are off work, or struggling to perform to their best, can cause resentment, particularly as their colleague doesn’t look ill.
There are no easy answers, but better understanding and talking help enormously.
UK charity Mind describes the current pandemic as a mental health emergency. They can help you make choices about treatment, understand your rights or get the right support. Explore the help on offer on the Mind website
Andy also contributed to Thriving at Work: a review of mental health and employers