Would you walk by someone who was drowning?

Would you walk by someone who was drowning?

“No” I hear you say! but perhaps that’s what we unwittingly do every day.

This month’s blog title came to me as we recognise that September is Suicide Awareness month with the 10th being Suicide Prevention Day.

Asking the question, ‘Would you walk by someone who was drowning’ and initially answering with an unequivocal ‘No”! got me thinking. There is a common misconception that we would immediately recognise someone who was drowning. They would surely be showing physical signs of distress, they’d be shouting and waving their arms. It would be ‘obvious’ that they were in trouble, however I recall a recent article that indicated that this is often not the case. (http://bit.ly/aretheydrowning). Drowning is often silent.

Are we ‘drowning’ in the workplace?

The article advised that ‘except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled before speech occurs.  Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.’ In effect, someone who appears to be fine in the water is actually in severe danger of losing their life!

This led to me think on mental health issues in the workplace.   Is it not often the case that we think that someone with mental health issues would be obvious, but I believe, like the drowning man, the similarities in the two situations are uncannily similar.

The article continued, ‘Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water.’ In the workplace one moment people say “I’m fine” when the next second, internally, they are fighting the reality of their situation.

‘Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface.’ Similarly, the individual battling mental health issues often can’t raise their hand. People can feel unable to confide in someone within the their workplace for fear of being considered weak, it will damage their reputation, halt their career path or they may find themselves on the next list of redundancies as the company seeks a solution to ‘the problem’.  Or perhaps,  they just don’t have someone they can trust and open up too.

‘Man Chat’ providing support around mental health

Would you walk by someone who was drowning?  Recently in my home city of Aberdeen,  a couple of guys created ‘Man Chat’.   It’s a group largely promoted via their Facebook page, bringing support to men who are struggling with various mental health issues including the thoughts of ending it all by suicide.   All credit to Wray Thomson the founder, who himself had felt suicidal at one point in his life.

The extent of the problem is perhaps best highlighted by the response that ‘Man Chat’ immediately received, being publicised within a week on STV Television.  As of September 2019, Man Chat had 17,651 Facebook followers, some 20 posts a day and is in the process of applying to become a registered charity.  As Wray himself said ‘Why has it taken 2 men from Aberdeen to highlight this problem and get a response?’

September is Suicide Awareness Month

Suicide Prevention Day is on the 10th September and September Suicide Awareness month. You may have seen lots of different global campaigns such as ‘RU OK’ in Australia https://www.facebook.com/ruokday/, suicide prevention promoted by The World Health Organisation (WHO) https://www.who.int/mental_hez345alth/prevention/suicide/wspd/en/ Ask Twice in the UK https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/asktwice Speaking of the UK, what does suicide look like in our nation?

Suicide, what does this look like?

I am not a lover of statistics however, I feel it’s needed in this particular topic to reveal just how serious the situation is.   The Office of National Statistics 2018 report (http://bit.ly/ONSreport2018)  reveals:

  • In 2018, there were 6,507 suicides registered in the UK
  • Three-quarters of registered deaths in 2018 were among men (4,903 deaths)
  • The UK male suicide rate of 17.2 deaths per 100,000 represents a significant increase from the rate in 2017
  • Scotland had the highest suicide rate in the UK with 16.1 deaths per 100,000 persons (784 deaths), followed by Wales with a rate of 12.8 per 100,000 (349 deaths) and England the lowest with 10.3 deaths per 100,000 (5,021 deaths)
  • Males aged 45 to 49 years had the highest age-specific suicide rate

How do we address this?

My heart is for the business community that I serve every day and the reason I created P3 Business Care.   We spend so much of our time at work and if we are honest the pressures in the work environment can be the cause of extreme stress or ‘the straw that breaks the camel’s back’.  I would suggest that we need to move from a reactive to proactive stance in bringing support to our workplaces.

Mental health first aid (MHFA) training has become incredibly popular.   A recent article in The Guardian advised that the UK was training a record number of mental health first aiders with MHFA England stating that 140,000 people were trained in 2018-19, the most ever in a single year. About half a million people have been trained in total – about one in every 20 adults.

I’m in favour of MHFA training and our Business Partners, that visit our client’s business twice a week developing trust and relationships with employees, undertake the training, however, I’ve began to question its actual effectiveness in the workplace.

What’s the challenge?

No matter the number of staff who have undertaken MHFA training, the challenge we still face is providing impartial, independent opportunities for staff to speak about their challenges including mental health, family, addictions etc., whatever they may be.  Is staff going to be willing to open up to a colleague or maintain that everything is okay? Some may confide in a colleague and that is great, however, if you don’t have a relationship with that member of staff or are someone you come into contact with once every few weeks or longer, does that create the type of environment conducive to engagement?  Plus MHFA trainers are usually already busy people within the business and how does giving them another plate to keep spinning impact them personally?  I know there are many examples of the positive impact that MHFA trainers have had in the workplace, but I would argue they are the exception rather than the rule.

The recent article in The Guardian highlights the dramatic increase in MHFA training. Interestingly,  a Health and Safety Executive report agrees with my thoughts stating “There is limited evidence that MHFA training leads to sustained improvement in the ability of those trained to help colleagues experiencing mental ill health.” and ‘academic research identifying it is unproven as a strategy for improving mental health’.   The Guardian article

So, would you walk past someone who was drowning? Maybe it’s time to try a new approach?

 About P3 Business Care

 P3 Business Care is a social enterprise operating across the UK. Visiting your business on a weekly basis we provide personal and proactive support to your employees working in partnership with the company. We develop trust & relationships so we can identify and address issues before they become absence or staff turnover.  Read more about our services here

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