First aid for mental illness

How do you spot when a colleague is suffering from mental health issues? Siobhan Jones suggests 10 s

Having a job can help maintain your general wellbeing, but there are times when the workplace is a source of unnecessary and unhealthy stress.

In the UK, 32 million work days are lost each year because of symptoms of mental ill health and which can cost employers around £4 billion.

Lack of control, little work variety, low pay, poor working conditions and - these days - the fear of unemployment all contribute to stress among employees.

That stress then hits companies's coffers with a negative impact not just on firms's finances but also on the motivation and self-esteem of the entire workforce, denting productivity.

Unfortunately, employees often don’t know who to turn to at work. Government guidelines state it is the employers’s responsibility to provide “mentally safe” workspaces by, for example, offering flexible working hours and providing proper resources to do a job.

Ideally managers should be a reassuring presence and allow employees to admit to being stressed, low or overwhelmed, but it is also the employee’s responsibility to ask for help – and colleagues’s responsibility to help recognise when somebody is in need.

This doesn’t mean you need to spy on the people you work with, or should start making wild assumptions about their behaviour, but here are ten possible signs to look out for that may suggest mental ill-health:

  • Continuous lateness or unexplained days off
  • Marked personality changes
  • Inability to cope with workload, missing deadlines and forgetfulness
  • Prolonged low mood or depression
  • Extreme emotional highs (e.g. hyperactivity) and lows (e.g. crying)
  • Dramatic changes in eating habits or alcohol consumption
  • Excessive fears, anxieties and tiredness
  • Unusual anger, hostility or violence
  • Withdrawal from social contact
  • Appearing numb or emotionless

Raising the subject can be done in small, simple ways. Just a “how are you doing?” or an “I’ve noticed you have been looking a bit tired recently, I was wondering if there is something up?” can be a step towards someone seeking help.

Using the same idea as Medical First Aid, the Care Services Partnership has started to offer training in Mental Health First Aid.

Already on offer elsewhere, including in Scotland and Australia (where it was first developed), this is a way to give managers and employers the confidence to recognise symptoms in their colleagues, provide on-the-spot comfort and to offer advice on where to seek professional help.

Ideally, in the future, this will be a necessary requirement of new employees’ health and safety training.

Helping people understand mental wellbeing and dispelling the myths around mental ill health will hopefully, in turn, lead to an increase in people seeking help earlier on and help reduce the stigma around employing people with mental health issues.

Only one in 10 companies have an official policy on mental health. Promoting mental wellbeing in the workplace is not about waiting for someone to get seriously ill before acting. It is also not just about adding in some motivational pictures and a few pot plants.

It’s about taking a holistic approach: considering people’s physical and emotional needs and engaging with individuals to inspire confidence and help them cope at times of stress. All these things, no matter how small they may seem, can boost the productivity, performance and morale of a workforce.

Sources of advice and support

Alcoholics Anonymous

British Association of Psychotherapists

Cruse Bereavement Care

Health & Safety Executive

Mental Health Foundation

MIND

NHS

Relate – Relationship Advice

Samaritans

The Work Foundation

Siobhan Jones is a Mental Health Promotion & Suicide Prevention Worker

Getty
Show Hide image

The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times