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Why we must value mental wellbeing on a par with physical health

By Paul Atkins

As we near the end of Mental Health Awareness Week, it’s essential we take the time to reflect on the ways we are promoting better mental wellbeing, both professionally and personally, writes Rich Rogers, Health and Safety Director at Pennon.

Responsible businesses must ensure they are providing employees with the support they need at work and in their personal lives.

Having happy and healthy employees is one of our key goals and we recognise there have been significant changes and challenges for our 2,900 people over the last few years and as we emerge from the pandemic.

With one in four people experiencing a mental health problem of some kind each year in England, this is an important time for employers to review their approach to mental health.

Right thing to do

Encouraging employee wellbeing is not only the right thing to do for our people, but we can also reduce absences and time off with stress while promoting our organisation as a great place to work to help us attract and retain the very best talent.

Many organisations have historically been too reactive to mental health challenges, rather than looking at the root cause and addressing contributing factors.

Our industry, for example, is very good at risk assessing physical risks, but we need to be better at understanding the influences on mental health.

Mental Health Awareness Week is a good opportunity to pause, reflect and review approaches as well as having open conversations with teams right across our organisation.

Continuing to evolve

The way we respond to mental health challenges also needs to continue to evolve.

If someone has a physical injury, such as a broken leg, it’s accepted that there is a recovery and recuperation period for that individual to heal.

It’s clear and obvious and there really is no hesitation to recognise this and support the individual.

We must ensure we have the same approach to mental health and the processes in place to offer help to our employees when they ask for it.

Raising awareness

Rich Rogers, Health and Safety Director at Pennon (Pennon)

However, this isn’t just about getting the processes right, but also raising awareness with our people managers and employees ensuring they know the support is there.

We have put a range of support and advice in place for our employees. This includes confidential counselling, trained Mental First Aiders right across our business and a range of internal sessions with external speakers designed to encourage wellbeing, share best-practice and breakdown any stigma surrounding mental health.

We have partnered with the InsideOut organisation and I'm delighted to be on the InsideOut leaderboard – we work together to try to end the stigma associated with mental ill-health in the workplace.

We have also partnered with Champion Health to provide a wealth of information and self-help which our employees and their families can take advantage of.

We work with a number of fantastic charities, such as the Samaritans along with The Red Poppy Company which offer work-based counselling, wellbeing training and trauma management.

Better equipped

On a personal level, I believe there are many things in life that we can’t control that can affect our mental wellbeing, but it’s about preparing ourselves as best we can so that we are better equipped to deal with these situations when they arise.

For me, I ensure I make time for the things that I enjoy and which help to boost my mood, such as riding my bike, taking the dog for a walk or spending time with family.

As someone who has faced my own mental health challenges, I know the importance of a good support system and a safe space to talk, and that’s why I’m keen to promote this culture within Pennon.

I would urge anyone who is struggling to reach out in whatever way works for them, whether that be with family, friends or colleagues, over the phone or in person.

Long way to go

There has been a lot of progress made in mental health in recent years but there is still a long way to go to overcome the barriers that people face to seeking help and breaking down the stigma.

It will take a cultural and societal shift to get us to the point where, as a society, we value mental wellbeing on a par with physical health, and I believe that businesses have a pivotal role to play in this.

There are lots of great charities offering support all year round, such as the Samaritans who can be contacted on 116 123.

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