In conversation with Joscelyne Shaw: taking a holistic approach to mental health

Design and technology practice, IBI Group caught up with Mates in Mind’s Director of Strategy, Joscelyne Shaw to find out more about how the conversation around mental health has been developing in recent years, and the work of Mates in Mind.

How has the conversation around ‘mental health’ been changing?

The headline statistic that one in four people will experience a mental health problem each year has become increasingly well-known. We are reading and hearing stories in the general media regarding mental health on a far more regular basis — which share insights of peoples’ experiences and the impact of living through a crisis — without any question, the societal context has been changing.

The evidence of the impact of poor mental health within work is also part of this conversation. Three out of five employees experience mental health issues because of work, according to the Mental Health at Work, 2018 Summary Report. But there is also evidence to suggest that almost half of workers in the UK feel that they could not disclose a mental health issue at work (Personnel Today, 2017).

As a result, the general awareness of poor mental health has started to improve, which can only be a good thing. What is perhaps less clear is the fact that we all have mental health — that we have different states of mental health that at any moment will reflect the way we feel, the way we think and our overall sense of wellbeing.

So, what should we think about when it comes to ‘mental health’?

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) definition of mental health is: “a state of well‐being in which every individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community.”

According to the Health and Safety Executive, in 2017/18 stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 57% of all working days lost due to ill health, which equated to an average of almost 26 days lost per individual case — more than five weeks’ absence. Knowing that behind every number there is a person, surrounded by a family, friends and colleagues, the automatic question then is what is the impact not only on that individual, but for everyone else around them?

By working alongside our partners across the UK, we support employers to strive towards improving mental health in workplaces. We recognise that developing good mental health across a workforce is more than provisions for individuals to simply get by or survive. We need to encourage a holistic approach, providing organisations with the clarity and confidence to support their staff to thrive.

As a charity with a diverse supporter community of partner organisations, ranging from SMEs to very large employers, at what stage do you find that organisations start their conversations about mental health?

Over the last two years, we have been working with organisations that span the construction and related‐sectors to begin unpacking what it means when it comes to looking at mental health from within the context of workplace. We recognise that every organisation we partner with has different needs and concerns. Addressing mental health is a complex challenge and we believe there is no quick fix. Instead, Mates in Mind incorporates growing evidence as to what works that encourages a more joined‐up and holistic approach to the way we think, talk and tackle mental health.

The reasons organisations may engage with us can be varied. I can recall an occasion when I was working with a Supporting organisation’s training manager, who after a training session, stopped to share with me that it was the first time she had counted all the people she knew directly within the industry who had been affected by poor mental health or even suicide. She admitted that she had never reflected on this, and though she’d seen the headline numbers of those affected by mental health issues, it was in considering just how many people she knew directly, that it became apparent just how terrible the situation is!

But what is really shocking is some of the evidence that has emerged in respect of the analysis of the rates of suicides by occupation and gender that were published by the Office for National Statistics in 2017. In this report, which considered the data for the period 2011–2015, it states that “among elementary trades there were 3 job groups with a high risk of suicide … the highest risk being among lower-skilled workers in construction, that was 3.7 times above the national average”.

*SOC an acronym for Standard Occupation Classification

Further within the report, in relation to skilled trade occupations, similarly, the largest elevated risk of suicide was among skilled agricultural and construction roles. The report goes on to state that six of the 13 sub‐groups within the skilled trades were shown to have an increased risk of suicide with the largest elevated risk among building finishing trades (twice the national average), which included plasterers, painters and decorators.

Is there ever a wrong time to start the conversation about mental health?

Absolutely not — it is so important to remember, you are not alone. There is support out there, and some incredible people and organisations doing some truly life-changing work.

We know it can be difficult, but it’s very important to get that message across. It’s important too for individuals within organisations to recognise that considering how to create supportive environments in work is not only the right thing to do, but there is growing evidence of the direct quantifiable benefits back to the business with what can be relatively small investments.

But it’s not always easy to know where to start, which is why at Mates in Mind we invest a lot of time talking. So remember, you not alone when it comes to changing the way you work — “Let’s talk” — we’re here to help build a better understanding and support to empower and enable individuals to make a positive difference.

Even in cases, where unfortunately an incident may have taken place, we recognise that this can be an important place to start the conversation about mental health. The opportunities to build a preventative culture are as much about trying to avoid an issue as learning lessons from one.

To find out more about Mates in Mind visit www.matesinmind.org or to discover how you can get involved in their joint campaign with IBI Group, ‘We are #MentalHealthUnited’, visit http://constructioncup.co.uk/mentalhealthunited.html