09 May 2022
For Mental Health Awareness Week, Antony Thomas, Health Safety and Wellbeing Manager, writes about his experience of mental health support in the workplace and how it’s changed throughout his time within Transport for Wales.
What a difference three years can make. As Tolstoy wrote: “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”
In 2019 when I joined Transport for Wales, like many organisations, joined-up approaches to mental health were tentative. Admittedly at the time we had a quarter of the staff we have now, but getting buy-in to support mental health in the workplace was surprisingly pain-free. Transport industries are traditional old mainstays of masculine towel-flicking canteen banter, with certain no-go areas of conversation scribed on locker room walls. To confide to having a mental health issue was an admission of weakness, despite the Welsh tradition of poring over every illness imaginable.
In Wales, 40% of employees feel uncomfortable talking to an employer about a mental health diagnosis. It was important to move the mental health conversation forward into the domain, not just for business reasons but to ensure that sufferers were not left behind. To achieve that we had to construct solid foundations.
Since that time we have built relationships with the Railway Mission Support, MIND Cymru and Time to Change; signed the ‘Time to Talk’ pledge of encouraging everyone to talk about mental health; developed a robust Employee Assistance Programme to support colleagues suffering with life’s great challenges; trained 20 Mental Health First Aiders and over 30 Mental Wellbeing Champions; formed the Staff Wellbeing Action Group (SWAG) to focus resources on the ‘5 Ways to Wellbeing’ principles and achieved silver in the MIND Workplace Wellbeing Awards as ‘Achieving Impact’.
But that doesn’t mean we can sit back, feet up resting with a metaphorical cognac and cigar. Like rust, Mental Health never sleeps and if we don’t retain a sense of vigilance as to its cause and effect then we will most definitely fail. Nowhere is this more pronounced than amidst the COVID pandemic, where for some of our colleagues, the enforced isolation at home has affected a deterioration in their mental wellbeing.
In response -and building on what we have in place already- we will be training many more champions, with an aim to get 10% of TfW Group trained by the end of 2022; providing key training for line managers in recognising mental health conditions in their teams and developing good support strategies; working with our contracted Occupational Health partners to provide clear advice on best practice in tackling workplace mental health and building a robust organisational response to the multiple effects of ‘Long Covid’.
But, as I always say, we’re only as good as our last hit record. We can implement a wealth of resources and processes, but without our people they are as useful as a leaf blower in a gale.
We all have a part to play, and that means talking to each other, taking care to ask how we are and encouraging everyone to talk about their mental health without stigma and retribution. Let this years’ Time to Talk Day be the inspiration for making sure nobody in our family is left behind.
We all have had demons and dark times, and from experience I have found how important it is to have someone to talk to, whether it's a professional, a colleague or a loved one. I’ll finish off with another quote: “I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.” – Helen Keller.