On Mental Health Awareness Week (10th-16th May 2021), Tom Matthews, HR Business Partner at Heathcotes Group, discusses the impact of the past year and the measures we can take to support good mental health.
You can find out what Chesterfield Champions are doing to mark the occasion and raise awareness locally throughout the week here.
The past year looms large in any discussion about mental health. The pandemic has been a cause of stress, anxiety, isolation and grief for communities across the world. Covid has been an unprecedented challenge for care providers, and on behalf of Heathcotes I am incredibly proud of the collective effort of our colleagues who have pulled together to meet this challenge. Our Support Workers, Team Leaders, Service Managers and central functions have shown unwavering dedication in support of some of the most vulnerable individuals in society, at a time when they needed that support more than ever.
The lockdown presented especially difficult circumstances for the individuals that we support. The sudden disruption and restrictions of the pandemic had the potential to have an extremely disturbing and stressful effect on individuals within our care, who have a variety of different needs.
Typifying Heathcotes’ person-centred approach, our services worked together to plan personal arrangements for each individual in our care, providing variations of established routines that were no longer possible in lockdown. The staff were amazingly inventive in coming up with ways to maintain engagement and contact with family members and help the people we support to cope. Our services nationwide arranged all kinds of initiatives, including talent contests, baking contests, photo shoots, rainbow-themed parties, art galleries, newsletters, garden makeovers and numerous other activities and events. Looking back over the past year, their efforts made an enormous difference in helping everyone to manage everyday life and maintain good mental health in the shadow of Coronavirus. They continue to do so as we tentatively approach a return to normality.
In our specialist provision of social care, there is a strong focus on the mental health of the individuals we support, but the wellbeing of our workforce is vital too. The workplace is hugely influential on mental health and organisations have a duty of care to ensure that this environment facilitates wellbeing.
Andy Bell, Deputy Chief Executive at Centre for Mental Health, said: “Work is – on the whole – good for our mental and physical health. However, mental health difficulties are both common and serious, and for a lot of people the places they work can have a big impact on their wellbeing. Companies, large and small, that take mental health seriously and create a mentally healthy environment to work in will benefit from being safer, happier and more productive.”
In any industry or sector, supporting good mental health starts with a culture of communication. There is no doubt that the national conversation around mental health has advanced in recent years, addressing the perceived stigma about discussing our problems, but many people are still uncomfortable about sharing their struggles and asking for help. Due to social conditioning, that reticence is more common amongst men. A survey commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation found that men are far less likely than women to seek professional support, and less likely to disclose a mental health problem to friends and family.
At Heathcotes, we’re proactive in changing attitudes, inspiring and empowering colleagues to feel comfortable about opening up and seeking support. This can encourage conversation in the workplace and educate and enable champions from across our organisation to access support and keep people safe. I’m really proud of our commitment to mental health safeguarding through upskilling, with access to accredited Mental Health First Aid training enabling employees to recognise the signs of colleagues experiencing a crisis and offering appropriate support.
In the past few months, Heathcotes have developed an employee assistance programme with a key emphasis on mental health and wellbeing, which we feel is vital to recognise following one of the most difficult years many of us have faced in our lifetime. It includes 24/7 access to a support team to discuss any matter, and access to expert counsellors providing confidential advice and support for depression or anxiety.
The programme also includes a range of online resources and apps providing lifestyle assistance, including diet and exercise planning, budgeting and physical and emotional wellbeing. Having a robust structure in place will make it easier for our colleagues to manage day-to-day aspects of their personal life, work life and wellbeing. It will also make it easier for our colleagues to reach out in their time of need.
While organisational leadership is essential, we can also make a crucial difference on a personal level. In busy environments like social care, it’s easy to let a working week pass by without taking time to discuss the worries and pressures in our lives. Regardless of your industry, if you suspect a colleague is struggling in silence, ask them how they are feeling. Simple gestures can make a huge difference in helping people to feel comfortable about speaking up.
The pandemic has given us a greater appreciation of the importance of observing and attending to mental health. At Heathcotes, we look ahead to more positive times with a greater understanding of how to look after ourselves and how to look out for others.
Heathcotes Group supports the marketing and economic growth of the town through Chesterfield Champions, a network of over 180 organisations across Chesterfield and North Derbyshire.