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TPi_Magazine__February_2018

PSA: THE BIGGER PICTURE

PSA: THE BIGGER PICTURE IMPROVING OUR APPROACH TO MENTAL HEALTH The PSA’s Andy Lenthall discusses the ostensibly different ways in which our industry deals with the physical and mental health problems faced by its employees; and what we can do to change things for the better moving forward. I had flu recently. I don’t believe in man flu. I had flu and some of you will know what I’m talking about. It was impressive, it had my full respect and admiration - I was useless. In my case, the flu lasted 5 days; 3 days off work and a wasted weekend. For others it took longer, perhaps due to a different strain, perhaps due to their physiological ability to cope with a viral invasion. So what? Because I managed to shake it in a few days, does that make me better that someone who felt the effects for a fortnight? Do they not need to just man up? Who am I to suggest they do? Physical illness affects different people in different ways, I understand that and that’s my approach to the physical wellbeing of my family, friends and colleagues. Can the same be said for our approach to mental health? We think there’s room for improvement. Hence the title, we make no apologies for the amount of times we will repeat that phrase. We’re not raising awareness, we’ve had quite enough of awareness, too many people have lost too many friends, we’re all very aware. What we now need is a better understanding of how to be more open, make it easier to talk and be better at encouraging people to seek the help that they might need. The great news is that some of the answers are out there already; it should be easy to make a positive change. We’re keen to encourage companies to sign up to the Time To Change employer pledge. As they say, when you sign the Employer Pledge you demonstrate your commitment to change how we think and act about mental health in the workplace and make sure that employees who are facing these problems feel supported. For those who need more than just the ‘it’s the right thing to do’ motivation, there are financial benefits. Looking after the mental health of your employees makes business sense: tackling stigma can make a real difference to sickness absence rates, presenteeism levels, staff wellbeing and productivity, and retention. Since signing the Employer Pledge, 95% of employers said it had a positive impact on their organisation. This is the point where we throw in a few figures: • 1 in 4 British workers are affected by conditions like anxiety, depression and stress every year. • Mental ill-health is the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK, costing an average of £1,035 per employee per year. • 95% of employees calling in sick with stress gave a different reason. Look at that last figure again. Ninety five percent of people with a valid reason for absence feel that they need to give another reason. How can an employer address the cause when employees don’t feel able to report the true problem? We do like to think that we’re a caring bunch, our door is always open, 72

PSA: THE BIGGER PICTURE we’re happy to lend an ear. Is that passive approach enough when so many don’t feel comfortable with sharing the real issue? Perhaps we could get better at spotting the signs, become more effective at opening the conversation rather than waiting for the call; maybe populating our industry with people who can approach, talk, listen and signpost people to seek the help they need - there’s a lot of it out there. Sometimes, a person suffering from mental illness doesn’t want to bother a friend or colleague with their troubles - a more active approach may be needed. Of course, there’s an answer. It’s called Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), and it’s a thing. To become a Mental Health First Aider, you need to attend a 2-day training course. Companies can and should have MHFA trained staff as part of their commitment to improving their approach. This, though, is where we run into a slight issue: we’re not all about employers and employees, we have a huge proportion of self-employed people, put together in teams to work on various events. Many of those individuals are in a supervisory or management position and could benefit from MHFA training. Of course, training costs money - in this case, up to £300. To soften the blow, Stagehand, the industry charity set up by PSA members over 20 years ago, has committed to subsidising MHFA training for up to 100 self-employed members, offering 50% of the cost on proof of completion of the 2-day course; a serious commitment that has itself been subsidised by a significant donation from the PSA’s reserves. Of course, the administration of first aid means that there’s a problem to address. Physical damage can be caused in the “Accidents in the workplace also cause injury, employers apply resources to reduce the likelihood of those accidents; our sector has worked extremely hard on reducing physical injury, addressing the causes. Can the same be said for mental wellbeing?” 73 workplace, mental wellbeing is no different. I could break my leg skiing and bring that injury into the workplace; I’d hope my employers would support me through recovery. Mental ill health can be caused by factors outside work too. Same applies. Accidents in the workplace also cause injury, employers apply resources to reduce the likelihood of those accidents; our sector has worked extremely hard on reducing physical injury, addressing the causes. Can the same be said for mental wellbeing? Prevention is better than cure and we perhaps need to have a good look at ourselves, perhaps risk assess our working environment, just as we should for physical hazards. We don’t yet have the answers and different people handle things in different ways, but night working, long days, long periods away from home, lack of sleep, lack of job security, periods of unemployment, they’re all prevalent and all potential causes of mental ill health. The pledge and the training are simple first steps, but only by developing the conversation can we fully address the causes. And that flu? I’m over it now and still trying to catch up. I think I’m handling the stress OK. Interested In Mental Health First Aid Training? Self Employed PSA members can claim back 50% of training costs. Email gm@psa.org.uk for details. TPi www.psa.org.uk www.time-to-change.org.uk/get-involved/ get-your-workplace-involved/employerpledge www.mhfaengland.org www.smhfa.com www.mhfa-wales.org