Mental Health – We Must Normalise it!

July 14, 2021

Despite growing awareness and increasing support, poor mental health is still a taboo topic. Depression, anxiety, burnout, post traumatic disorders, and the many other topics that are ascribed to poor mental health still carry a stigma alongside them and are subjects not openly discussed within the workplace by either employees or employers. This is concerning, especially when you consider the direct impact that poor mental health can have on the workplace and whole business, from increased absenteeism, accidents, employee turnover and decreased productivity. The current COVID-19 pandemic has placed increased strain on those who already suffer with poor mental health, and it will not come as a surprise there has been an increase in depressive and anxiety disorders, also in those who have not before been diagnosed with mental health issues.

“I have broken my arm “– this statement is easy to say and clearly understood and the injury can clearly be seen. Equally, if someone calls in sick due to having a virus or a migraine, then the reason would generally be accepted by an employer and colleagues as being unable to attend work, without stigma or judgement. So why is it so difficult to express feeling of poor mental health within the workplace? Why does mental health not invite the same feelings of empathy from colleagues as someone suffering from a virus or who has broken their arm? If someone called in sick saying they felt their mood was too low to come to work or they had an anxiety attack that morning, which has left them feeling distressed and exhausted, how would you respond? Would this be heard as a reason to not attend work? How many times have you asked how somebody is, to be met with a ‘…well actually I feel pretty low, I’ve been struggling with my thoughts this week?’ In fact, paradoxically, it has become the norm within society to simply answer, ‘I’m fine thank you’ regardless of the reality – the thought of someone giving a different, honest response would fill most of us with dread, because quite simply we don’t know what to say, or how to help and this makes us feel awkward.

Why is it that if I do an internet search for a toolbox talk or sound bite on ‘slips trips and falls’, I get thousands of links, but revise the search for toolbox talks on mental health and I get nothing. I have been in countless meetings all with a safety incident or similar, and in over 20 years in the industry only 1 has been on mental wellbeing and that’s one that I delivered! THE BIGGEST KILLER IN THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY IS SUICIDE and we simply cannot go on hiding our heads in the sand trying to avoid talking about it. We need to be aware of poor mental health and importantly, be willing to talk about it with friends, colleagues, and managers, so that we normalise and break down the stigma that is associated with it. Often the friends we work with are the closest to us, as we spend more time with our work colleagues than our families. All too often there are few people we can talk to outside of work, which makes work relationships a vital lifeline to many people. Therefore, it seems ludicrous that we don’t discuss feelings of poor mental health with each other in the workplace.

So, just how DO we make the topic of poor mental health normal? Simply by normalising it! It is great to see that people and companies are training personnel in mental health first aid, and the British Drilling Association (BDA) has done this with its auditors. It is a very specialist skill – Mental Health First Aid – but if we are to make mental health issues normal, I would propose that everyone should attend training in it.

Individually, we should not be afraid to talk about how we are feeling, and in an honest manner. Find a safe space; it could be with your partner, your parent, your friend, your colleague, or even a stranger, and there are many great organisations that can support you if you are suffering or can support you in helping someone who is struggling. Free counselling services are widely available to everyone, and we should make full use of them. Of course, if you are comfortable and not feeling great when asked how you are doing, reply with an honest “actually I’m not too good, I’m feeling a bit XYZ” ….   Let us ditch the usual “I’m fine”, as this will help remove stigma and make it normal for you and others to not be ok all the time.

LISTEN – Acceptance only comes after proper listening and listening is a powerful tool in normalising the stigma. Set aside some time from your daily life just for listening and actually try to listen to the people you love and care about, as you will not only notice the little ‘tells’ but you can also make a big difference in their life. Practise it consistently.

Hold moments in meetings or during the day to pause, reflect and discuss. It is good to stop and take a deep breath, pull a face, and laugh. Use the Lion breath as your next safety moment. Download the Calm App or equivalent and take time through the day to stop and listen to a 5-minute relaxation track.

To sum up, we all need to be a lot more open and honest to each other, but more importantly we need to not be afraid to talk about our feelings. Poor mental health is not something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about and we owe it to ourselves and to each other to really look into this topic. We need to build toolkits of our own so that we are prepared to help ourselves, our family, work colleagues, friends, and anyone else who may need us.

The BDA plans to bring more useful tools and items on mental health and wellbeing to the drilling sector, with the aim of stopping the stigma and normalising the conversations

Author: Paul McMann, Chair of Training & Education Sub-committee, British Drilling Association

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