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Mental Health – Fact or Fiction?

By Martin Ellis, Managing Director, Team Umbrella Limited

Due to the current pandemic many people are working from home and this has had an effect on our mental health.

The current situation has taken a toll on people and PA Life spoke with Martin Ellis, to find out how you can help your employees and colleagues…

“There’s a saying about ex-smokers, and how they harp on about the benefits of not smoking. What’s the relevance, you may ask? Well, not so long ago I would have disbelieved that mental health issues were a problem at all. The recipe is an obvious one: male, love the gym, ex-rugby player…  “Got a problem? Deal with it! Toughen up!” And I say this as the owner of a company offering… Mental Health First Aid training.

There’s no shame in my admitting I was very wrong. In fact, I now believe there is more strength in admitting to having a problem than any amount of weight training will give you. Maybe vulnerability is the new macho, who knows.

The truth is that we’re all vulnerable, and when we’re hit in the weak spot, we crumble. The key then is just how well and how quickly we recover. And this is where mental health in the workplace is so very important – even more so now, when for many people the workplace is a lounge, or a spare room; yes, working from home may seem a great option at first, but it can take its toll on people who thrive on human contact and work best as part of a team.

But unlike physical issues, those attached to mental health are a triple whammy: firstly, you can’t see them. The lady sat next to you in the office who’s always smiling – maybe she’s just putting on a brave face. The man in accounts who’s always telling jokes – is he hiding his depression? Secondly, due mainly to historical attitudes some people still attach a stigma to mental health issue. “Will people steer clear of me?” “Will it affect my job prospects?” “Will people stop liking me?” Thirdly, and crucially, many people don’t know how or where to seek help. That’s where we come in.

We train people in Mental Health First Aid. That doesn’t make them a counsellor, or a psychiatrist; but it does teach them to notice the signs that something isn’t right, and shows them how to speak to people and to work with them to find the help and support that they need. On the flip side, people in a company will be made aware that if they do have mental health issues, they can go to the Mental Health First Aider as a first port of call. Sometimes just knowing that you can talk to someone is a pick-me-up. Confucius said that the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. It often feels like that first step is the hardest to take, and after that it just gets easier.

There’s also a tangible benefit. In recent years, mental health has become the primary cause of absence from work, surpassing back pain. Some estimates suggest that it costs industry upwards of £80 billion per year. Others suggest that on average a single employee suffering with mental health will costs their company several thousand pounds each year. That’s the point at which company owners take notice and realise the question isn’t how can you afford training, but how can you afford to not train people. It’s a two-day training course that could save lives, and it may be the best two days that you’ll ever spend in training.

Am I a convert? Yes. We’re all different and we all have different needs. It’s important not to judge a book by its cover, or to pigeon hole people. Appearances can be deceptive – think back to the Police Academy movies, and the giant Hightower, who just wants to be a florist. We must learn to help people’s needs to be taken care of, then we see the very best of them.”

Team Umbrella Limited is a full service MICE agency. TU Training is their training division which focuses on delivering Mental Health First Aid training and First Aid at Work, as well as niche training within the medical sector.