One in four of you reading this article will experience a mental health issue each year. In my company, Prima Software, there are 44 employees, so mathematically, 11 of us will suffer a decline in our mental wellbeing during the next 12 months. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?
The sheer words ‘mental health’ may set alarm bells ringing for business owners, team leaders and HR departments throughout the land because of the stigma attached to them.
We can all think of several derogatory terms when delving into the subject. People suffering from mental health issues are also acutely aware of the stigma and will frequently anguish in silence. They will fight the battle alone rather than damage their promotion prospects or risk exclusion from work projects and social events.
Imagine being overwhelmed by anxiety, clouded by self-doubt, feeling worthless and thinking you are a burden to others. Add to this living under a permanent grey cloud, frightened, numb and too ashamed to talk about how you feel. It’s a horrendous situation, but sadly these thoughts can lead to the saddest of conclusions.
In the UK, somebody takes their own life every 90 minutes. Take a moment to reflect on that statistic. The truth is, mental health is a spectrum, ranging from well to ill, with other levels in the middle. Think of it as going from green to red with yellow and amber in between.
Some days, we can dip into the yellow phase – maybe we’re sad about something or worried about a specific situation. When those yellow periods become more frequent, our mental health is likely to deteriorate into the amber zone. Ultimately, unless help is at hand, we can end up in the red zone, which can include severe chronic depression or crippling anxiety. This is a mental health crisis akin to a 999 emergency.
Prima Software is a service provider, developing, selling and supporting software solutions for dealers. Our people are the company’s most valuable asset and biggest investment. Ensuring the team is happy, motivated and working to their full potential is critical to our success and highlights the importance of harnessing a great business culture.
However, great culture is not a static pillar; it has to improve, adapt and move with the times. It should always be a work in progress which is improved upon consistently. This forms a big part of the ‘why’ that led us to explore mental health assistance and employee wellbeing in more detail.
Back in January, I bumped into longtime industry friend David Langdown. During this chance encounter, I learned about the services of Prima Voca and its Mental Health Wellbeing First Aid course. It was a no-brainer from the moment David explained the offering.
I spoke with our Customer Operations Director, Steven Dennis, who is also very passionate about nurturing mental wellbeing and booked a date for the coaching. Steven was instrumental in offering the training to everybody in the business. We were both delighted with the number of colleagues who stepped forward to participate – 12 in total from across all of Prima Software’s departments.
The idea of opening up the offer of becoming a Wellbeing First Aider to the entire team was to completely break down any barriers and eradicate any lingering stigma surrounding mental health. Having so many employees from across the company as qualified Wellbeing First Aiders means multiple people are able to recognise the initial signs of a friend’s mental health deterioration. It can provide early support to an individual’s wellbeing before a further decline along the spectrum I mentioned previously.
Prevention is always better than ‘cure’. Sometimes, just knowing that someone cares may be enough to lift someone up and guide them towards the security of good wellbeing.
A learning curve
In many cases, wellbeing goes beyond a ‘here and now’ occurrence; it can be a journey requiring ongoing support and the encouragement of self-care. The training has taught us how to approach a friend in need and talk to them, asking the right questions while listening to understand and not to reply.
More importantly, we learned not to force solutions upon them but instead focus on ascertaining what will help them feel better.
At Prima Software, we have always cared about each other’s wellbeing. However, there is now a big difference in the fact we are able to identify early warning signs and offer support across the spectrum of age, gender, personality type and roles within the company.
We have a wealth of qualified individuals somebody can turn to in a crisis, not to mention a non-judgemental, open-minded and understanding culture formed by the bedrock of the course. It’s a safe space for all our employees.
We owe a huge thank you to Prima Voca for delivering the training with expertise, empathy and warmth in a relaxed classroom environment at Prima HQ. We laughed as a team, cried as a team and emerged with the confidence to help others and a determination to be there for our colleagues, family and friends.
The experience has certainly brought our employees even closer together and I would urge other businesses to consider doing the same or similar. I can honestly say it has been one of the most important things we have done for our team.
I must reserve a special mention for our well-loved industry friend, Steve Bilton, who was never too far from our hearts and minds during the sessions. If ever a positive can come from such a tragic event, then it is the increased awareness of mental health and the silent battles that one in four of us could face. RIP Billo.
To explain the importance of mental health in the workplace and being a Wellbeing First Aider, I would like to reference a famous song by The Hollies based on the legend of two young boys in an orphanage. One boy was supporting the other who had polio and wore leg braces. When asked if carrying the boy was hard, the reply was simply: “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother”.
It’s not always the physical objects and ailments which weigh us down; mental health struggles can be the heaviest burdens. Sometimes we all need a friend to help carry us.
Ian Buckley is Managing Director of Prima Software
If you (or someone you know) needs support with mental health and wellbeing issues, below are a few organisations that may be able to help. NB: This is not an exhaustive list.