Mental health in the workplace, where do you start?

Safety Bytes - Mates in Mind

In the latest of their ‘Safety Byes’ series, Irwin & Colton meet Paris Forrester, General Manager of Mates in Mind.

Mental health in the workplace, where do you start?

So, the first step for us - what we always say is, start the conversation. The key factor across workplaces, whether it's the construction industry or the wider workforce, is do you feel your employees feel comfortable to talk about mental health?. Have you created a culture, have you fostered a culture that encourages people to be open? To discuss personal problems, to discuss with their line manager if they're struggling at the moment with anxiety or depression or stress? Anything that's going to contribute to or have an impact on the way that you carry out your day-to-day work? So, breaking that stigma is the first step. Then we start to look at a more strategic approach. So how is the organization measuring the impact of mental health on the organization?

What is the biggest hurdle for employees?

Honestly, I think it's knowing how to even have the conversation, and then who to go to. Who do you talk to? Do you speak to your line manager? Do you talk to your peers? Do you speak to HR? Do you actually even understand what you're suffering or what you're going through, and the impact that is having on your day-to-day work life and how you deliver it, deliver your role? I think often, people-- it's not until they get to that point of crisis, when they've peaked and they're really, really stressed or anxious and overwhelmed.

They think, oh, my gosh, something's wrong here. I need help. And then, once you recognize that you need help, who do I turn to? And I think if you're in an environment, whether it's a professional office environment or even a construction site, I think having the confidence to say, I need help, and then knowing that when you go to someone, they're going to be able to say to you, OK. That's OK. It's OK not to be OK, we can help you with that.

I think once you get to that point, people are kind of struggling with, OK, what's going to happen next? Am I going to lose my job if I disclose that I'm anxious or I'm suffering with depression? What are the implications of that on my work? If I miss three weeks of work in the construction industry, that might be the whole course of a project. So, knowing that there's a solution for them, or there's support, or there's treatment, can really be reassuring.

What is the Mates in Mind approach?

Mates in Mind is addressing the challenge by primarily focusing on how we can support employers and providing the preventative tools and provisions to start building a program around mental health. So whether that's about educating the workforce on how to address the stigma, and as we say, start the conversation around mental health and mental ill health, we will support them with building a stress management policy and mental health policies. So, you're getting that overarching strategic aims around how to approach mental health.

And we're thinking about mental health in the same way that we think about physical health. For us, what's unique about what we do is that we take a whole organization approach. So, we don't just think about the individual. We think about the employees, the structure of the organization.

We try to tailor and create a holistic approach that is specific to the organization's needs. One of the elements of our program is actually conducting research around mental health to understand what the driving factors are in creating and causing mental health in the industry. So we're trying to build up an evidence base that we can design and produce tools that are effective, addressing the source of the work of the concern.

Mates in Mind is a charitable programme to improve and promote positive mental health in the workplace and was established by the Health in Construction Leadership Group (HCLG) with the support of the British Safety Council in September 2016.

‘Safety Bytes’ is a video series with leaders from across the health and safety space. The series is released by Irwin & Colton, a specialist health, safety and environment recruitment company. For more information contact Irwin & Colton’s Director James Irwin on or 01923 432 632.

Posted on Tuesday Jun 2