16 Jun Scottish Parliament Reception – It’s Time to Take Action on Mental Health at Work
On May 21st, 2019, MHScot Workplace Wellbeing held a reception at the Scottish Parliament which was hosted by MSP Alexander Cole-Hamilton. The evening was titled ‘It’s Time to Take Action on Mental Health at Work’ and, with over 50 people in attendance it’s safe to say the evening was a resounding success. With countless conversations started, inspiring provocations from our speakers and commitments to action from attendees, it was an absolute honor to have been the MC for the night.
Introducing the Reception
My name is Lily Asch and I provide support with business development for MHScot. This reception was the fruit of months of planning and immediately I was so excited about the purpose of the evening, to not only spark key conversations about mental health at work but to bring together a diverse group and encourage commitment to taking the step from just speaking to catalyzing tangible action.
We understand that not everyone invited could attend, so I’ll give a brief overview of the evening as well as the key takeaways.
Things were kicked off by Catherine Eadie, the Founding Director of MHScot. She spoke of her personal journey with mental ill health, and how having experienced mental illness at a young age, resulted in her limited engagement with work due to stigma and misunderstanding. It took someone named Andy taking a chance and offering her a role in 2004 to instill the confidence in her that allowed her passion and intelligence to flourish.
Fast forward to 2015 and Catherine founded MHScot Workplace Wellbeing – a community interest company aimed at addressing the need for workplaces to support and cultivate positive mental health for all their staff. We took a moment to celebrate all that’s happened to date; MHScot has engaged with over 1200 people since its inception and in doing so has directly impacted the improvement of knowledge, confidence and skills in mental health literacy. One of the most striking facets of Catherine’s speech is when she mentioned the statistic that 71% of people who completed suicide were working at the time of their death. This might seem surprising to many, but its truth clearly demonstrates the need to have more transparency in workplaces along with appropriate training to empower colleagues to help one another and develop support structures within the workplace.
One of the most striking facets of Catherine’s speech is when she mentioned
“that in a recent 5 year period 71% of people who completed suicide were working at the time of their death”.
This might seem surprising to many, but its truth clearly demonstrates the need to have more transparency in workplaces along with appropriate training to empower colleagues to help one another and develop support structures within the workplace.
The host, Alex Hamilton MSP, gave a moving account of why he was motivated to have this event happen. Having been personally affected by a loved one’s poor mental health, he knew first-hand how important it is to feel empowered to be the first responder for someone’s mental health and he noted the importance of the Scottish Mental Health First Aid course. So, if we consider that most people spend most of their time at work then having staff trained as mental health first aiders in the workplace and beyond is integral to supporting people towards mental wellbeing.
Alex also spoke of the impact of trauma on mental health recognising that with our public services over-stretched and under-funded, many people come to interact with the system that could potentially be a source of further trauma. This was a clear call to action for policy makers and politicians to find the parity we so desperately need between the financing and provision of mental and physical health.
At this point I took the opportunity to ask how many people in the audience were trained as Scottish Mental Health First Aiders. It was easily 75% of the room that raised their hands and what an exhilarating feeling to be surrounded by so many passionate and dedicated humans. Of course, we were in a group of likeminded individuals so my provocation then was how can we use our passion to inspire those out with the room?
Our other speakers provided further context and perspectives on the issues around mental health at work.
Jennifer Matheson, Human Resources Manager at Apex Hotels spoke to how Apex Hotels are committed to being pioneers in the service industry through their approach to mental health support. More than 60 mental health first aiders have been trained across Apex Hotel group through their partnership with MHScot which began in 2018. Besides training up their staff they went further and worked with See Me to develop a comprehensive wellbeing policy for all their employees which is something we would encourage all organisations consider.
Jennifer also spoke about how integral sharing best practice is, not only across the hospitality industry but within a broader context as well. Certain topics might be viewed as trade secrets but when concerning mental health, the more tips, good strategies and policies that are shared the better, as everyone benefits.
Our final speaker, Scott Newby provided the perspective of someone struggling with mental ill health at work and how through lack of support his condition deteriorated to the point that he had to withdraw from work. He told us about his personal mental health journey and how he and his condition were treated in the workplace. Scott reminded us that how someone might present on the outside isn’t always a reflection of their internal state.
Scott had worked for a big financial institution and was supporting a young family and to his colleagues he appeared to be outgoing and performing well, but when he had to take time off work because of a breakdown in his mental health, the real reason for his absence was hidden at every level. Both his doctor and the HR department at his company felt the need to hide it, citing instead a physical ailment. By sweeping his mental ill health under the rug, it was implied that mental health issues were not something to be brought into the workplace. He was given to understand that mental wellbeing didn’t have a place at the table. Scott’s frustration at the lack of transparency, support and understanding of mental health led him to leave the company and set up his own organization, NewbyCore Consulting which trains and consults on mental health in the workplace.
Time to Take Action
Delegates were asked to fill out a ‘Take Action’ card and discuss what they might do to support mental health with the person sitting next to them.
The gentle of buzz of conversation soon swelled to a roar with people sharing ideas and making commitments to act. There was much feedback and idea generation. A teacher mentioned the need for a physical space, such as a staff room where teachers can communicate and connect in order to reduce their own stress levels and protect their mental health. A group of doctors echoed the need for more private, physical space, especially when attending to emotionally challenging consultations. Many people spoke about the need to create more enlightened health policies at work and have these prioritized and instituted in a timely fashion.
Our night together ended with further networking and conversations. With plans for taking action in tow, every attendee left with inspiration, connections and encouragement to support their workplaces in developing more mental healthy environments. At MHScot, we were so glad to have held this space and look forward to doing all we can to help through the provision of quality trainings, workshops and consultancy.
Click on the images below to enjoy the rest of the photos from the evening.
Written by MHScot Team Member, Lily Asch
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