The mental health landscape is changing fast. Are you keeping up? - Kate Nowicki
Tuesday 20 May 2014It's a question that was posed at a special TUC conference at Pride Park Stadium in Derby. More than 100 trade union representatives from the East Midlands gathered to discuss the challenges of managing mental health issues at work.
Kate Nowicki is an Acas Area Director based in Nottingham.
If we are not all keeping up with the changing perception of mental wellbeing, then many trade union reps are certainly keen to catch up. Regional Secretary of the TUC, Rob Johnston, said that the conference had the fastest uptake of delegates for any such event in recent years. The view from the floor was clear: mental health in the workplace is a top priority for these trade union reps and their members.
The opening speaker, Mike Jeffries from Birmingham MIND, shared an animation: I had a black dog, his name was depression. It was a powerful moment and I was not alone in being moved by it. Mike's explanation of mental health was an eye opener for some, and he made a very key point: it is not just up to employers and unions to keep pace with mental health - the law cannot afford to lag behind. For example, up to a year or so ago, anyone who had ever been sectioned under the Mental Health Act was prevented from taking up a post as a school governor, from being on jury service, or from being a company director.
Mental Health First Aider Bill Cunningham gave a compelling account of the benefits of having key staff trained in mental health first aid. Another very revealing fact: mental health first aiders are more likely to use their skills in the workplace than regular first aiders. And think of the importance workplaces (rightly) place on being able to deal with broken bones or cuts and bruises!
The conference took an interesting turn at this point. Many of us associate cricket with peaceful village greens and sun hats but, as well all know, stereotypes are always likely to be misleading. Jason Ratcliffe, Assistant Chief Executive of the Professional Cricketers Association (PCA), told the conference about the work the PCA does to help professional cricketers to manage stress, particularly when it comes to adjusting to life after cricket when they retire.
And what about Acas? I told delegates that we can add value by bringing about a deeper understanding of mental health at work and by helping identify practical solutions. This includes supporting line managers to develop the skills and knowledge that they need, advising on the business benefits and helping with written policies. The consensus was that too few employers have policies and procedures on mental health in place, and the knowledge deficit is considerable.
Ian Wade from HMRC gave a powerful account of the challenges of raising mental health awareness and starting a programme of training in this organisation. It is a work in progress, facilitated by the cooperation and support of the PCS.
Tom Ross from Northern TUC ended the conference by stimulating some interesting discussions. In short: mental health is here to stay, it matters and we need to switch on to this very real policy area very quickly so that we can catch up with what many people are experiencing at work every day.