Headlines on the impact of our mental health on our general wellbeing have now become commonplace; household names and royalty have begun to openly discuss their experiences and put the weight of their influence behind campaigns and organisations aimed at combatting mental ill-health. But beyond the public discussions and valiant openness, there are inevitably people battling with invisible ailments a lot closer to home. Research by Mind found at least one in six workers experience common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression; preventing them from performing at their best.

While the wider conversation surrounding mental health is beginning to inspire understanding, the associated stigma undoubtedly remains in most UK workplaces; it is claimed that 95% of employees who call in sick with stress give a different reason for their absence.

The rail industry’s male-dominant, stoic and even macho image could be indicative of a culture ill-equipped to support some of the struggles faced by employees. However, with growing social recognition of the importance of good mental health; awareness is undeniably beginning to influence attitudes in our industry and the need for more in-depth understanding has arisen, and the Mental Wealth Café was born. Supported by Midlands rail organisations, the initiative set out to create a place to discuss how we can improve mental health management within the industry; a concept with far-reaching personal and commercial benefits.

The first event of the series was held in Derby on 24th January. The Rail Forum Midlands team welcomed over 50 delegates to hear from a variety of speakers and partake in interactive sessions. Wendy McCristal, who founded the concept, kicked off proceedings with a heartfelt and emotional account of a period where her mental health unexpectedly faltered and she found herself unable to function. She spoke of the fear she felt as she realised her livelihood relied upon her mind. Like many of us, the demands of Wendy’s role were not physical; the skills she brought to her workplace were intellectual and she was facing a situation whereby she couldn’t apply herself effectively. Having sought help and returned to work, Wendy discussed the importance of a strong support network; a sentiment shared by NSAR’S Neil Franklin who discussed the effect our mental health has on productivity. Neil noted that the rail industry spends £25bn per year and half of this is spent on its workforce. So, when you consider that the two main causes of a loss of productivity are musculoskeletal and mental health issues, it is clear that early and effective support could save the industry a significant sum. Neil went on to say that by addressing mental health and wellbeing issues in the workplace, an organisation’s productivity will inevitably increase.  First Choice Safety Training speakers Scott Mathie and Gary Peake later endorsed this view, stating that depression can form in just 2 weeks and has an average recovery time of 9 months.

Other speakers included Coach Katrina Holden, who explained how best to support employees returning to work following serious illness. She discussed the need to work with them to set achievable goals and help them to look honestly at their new capabilities. Railway Mission’s Liam Johnston and Ralph Coleman looked at the restorative power of listening and sharing. Ford and Stanley Chairman discussed their Genius Performance program and how investment in your employees’ mental wellbeing can indirectly help your business to prosper.

As we as an industry begin to embrace the importance of mental health support in the workplace and strive to establish good practice across all sectors, we will undoubtedly improve staff retention, performance and wellbeing; making for a more effective and rewarding industry all round.

For more information on future Mental Wealth Café events, please contact sophia@midlandsrail.co.uk der-color

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