Mental Health Training in the Workplace

A good friend of mine is a senior HR manager in the service industry. After she came to see me in hospital following my first suicide attempt, I started to wonder what kind of training she had been given as part of her job role to aid any colleagues who presented to her with mental health issues.

The information she gave me was frightening, that someone with such a position of responsibility of the welfare of employees had been given little or no training. Fortunately, this friend is full of wisdom (though I wouldn’t tell her that too often!) and is able to make rational decisions and give sound advice.

This is what she had to say:

You asked about training and with the job…… There is no training! HR or olden days personnel can also be known as the welfare department. I guess I can talk about it with real experience because of the industry I / we work in.

As you know working in the service industry attracts people from all walks of life and all backgrounds – educated, not educated, wealthy, not wealthy, career driven, wanting to earn pocket money, made to work and working for a social life! With that comes every kind of personality you could think of! The pressure of the industry as well as the associated social aspect can really bring the best and worst of a person. The best is that of a family and support feel, work hard play hard, cliche as that maybe that is so true of a the service industry The negative side and the one that is so close to me is that of those with mental health issues wanting to be part of that side and “wanting to be normal and doing normal things like the others”. This is the sentence that rings through me from my experience.

In many hotels as you know we have live in accommodation – free from family, free from rules and free from people that really know you and any challenges that you may have! That is where the trouble can start!

My role requires a first class degree in common sense, you need to be able to anticipate challenges, personality lapses, identify why mistakes may have been made, understand the prequel to poor behaviour / conduct. If you have the sense to do that you could quite probably not only save a job save a life. If you can identify mental health or lack of it you can really make a difference to someone.

I have had that call from the police at work to say that someone attempted suicide, I have visited someone who was sectioned under the mental health act and spoke to him knowing in his mind he thought everyone was trying to kill him. So what do I do / how do you deal with it;

We are all human treat each other as that and respect that we are all programmed different. In my role I try to enforce a level of respect and understanding that gives confidence that anyone can come and talk to me. In all the cases of mental health that I have dealt with they have been a cry for help. If someone comes to me with something I research it and try to understand how I can identify symptoms, cases particularly that I have dealt with are bipolar.

Now I train other managers I absolutely make sure I share such experiences. It is so important that people understand what role they have. We aren’t medical professionals but we have ears and we can be reassuring, we can be confidential and importantly we can be resourceful and find the right people to call. What have I learnt from my experiences – calling the police and visiting A&E is not the right call. They are massively under resourced and ultimately need mental health professionals on hand to deal with people – they are too far few and in between. This is in my opinion a huge failing in the NHS, that said some areas are much better than others. They are exceptional examples in Solihull, not so in Oxford but that I am assuming is because of lack of resources. 

Following this, I have sought information from other industries; the police force, educators and doctors along with some from other parts of the world to see how the training compares. I will be posting these sporadically as I get them in the hope we can highlight that more should be done in order to protect people in the workplace.

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