"Not Waving But Drowning" - the title of a poem by Stevie Smith, a lasting remnant of my high school English lessons. I have reflected on this phrase on a number of occasions over recent years, mostly linked to folk within my extended network who have succumbed to mental health problems. In each case it came as a complete surprise, a quick phone call from someone you haven’t heard from for a while, and you know from the tone of their voice that you really don’t want to hear what they have to say.
In each case, these mental health problems had been longstanding yet I have no memory of any of these folk being less than "upbeat". They were in touch with their families and friends through the usual channels, yet despite their support drowned in the silent tsunami of mental health problems.
Right now 1 in 6 workers are dealing with a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression or stress. The TUC has today released the results of a survey putting stress in pole position, with 7 in 10 (70 per cent) citing it as a problem in UK workplaces.
RoSPA in Edinburgh has recently achieved the Healthy Working Lives Bronze Award, an inclusive process which opens the box around occupational safety health and wellbeing. Having a mentally healthy workplace was identified as a core thread, and as such we reminded ourselves that a simple hello, a quick story or sharing lunch all make a difference to how people feel about being at work. Starting a conversation about mental health doesn’t have to be difficult.
Just asking are you OK? can change a person’s life! Research published for Invisible Illness Week found that 66 per cent of people surveyed would be hesitant telling an employer about a mental health issue or invisible illness such as ME, fibromyalgia or Lyme disease.
It also found that 65 per cent wouldn’t feel comfortable telling their friends, and 56 per cent would struggle to tell their family. The survey also revealed that 45 per cent of people who experience mental health issues, alongside an invisible illness, find it hard to have physical symptoms taken seriously, as they are attributed to their mental health.
The challenge for each of us is to gain sufficient understanding of the issues and think differently. The next time someone waves at us, how will we know they are not drowning?
Karen McDonnell, occupational safety and health policy adviser
Posted: 10/10/2016 3:27:46 PM