Fresh insight served at Mental Wealth Café

The Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) has been an influential voice for mental health issues in the rail industry, particularly in raising awareness of the symptoms and risks of PTSD among rail staff who witness incidents or who are victims of abuse. As such we called upon our corporate member to help us host YRP’s first Mental Wealth Café. An initiative setup by Wendy McCristal from The Mental Wealth Company, a Mental Wealth Café brings together individuals from different companies into a safe space to explore the issues that poor mental health are presenting to their industry, business or own lives, so that they can establish suitable next steps that can be used to make their own difference.

An ice breaker saw guests randomly assigned the role of either supporters or someone needing help. If those of us wearing a ‘sad face’ sticker could make it back to our seats – the chairs themselves representing a distressed state – there would have been not enough recognition and support for the individual. The lesson? It’s easy for people who need help to slip through the net – seats were found despite best intervention efforts, whilst supporters were helping others or simply being distracted! It is even harder in the real world where emoji stickers are not part of our dress code.

Identifying colleagues who need support is one part of the challenge. Another is breaking down the taboo of mental health to encourage discussion and deter ‘othering’. Thankfully, there are people who are brave enough to share their personal experiences to promote understanding of something that, for many of us, is not an easy subject to get our heads around, let alone articulate.

It was great that senior industry representatives attended this YRP event, a sign that mental health is taken seriously in our industry. With our sector losing up to £400m a year in days lost to mental illness, according to NSAR’s Neil Franklin and RSSB’s Mental Wellbeing Specialist Michelle O’Sullivan, the potential productivity benefits of a healthier, happier workforce make the case for more investment in our industry’s mental health obvious.

Round table discussion were supported by various organisations and professionals including Andy Elwood, an ex-Search & Rescue Paramedic (now Mental Health First Aid Trainer), who specialises in getting men to talk about how they feel. He finds that men respond better to talking about their problems while distracted by practical challenges – in this case tinkering under the bonnet of a Land Rover, a literal vehicle for discussion that he takes up and down the country to get men to talk freely. His was a fascinating insight; who knew that ‘eye-to-eye’ conversations can feel confrontational and that chatting ‘side-to-side’ helps some men to ‘open up’? With men accounting for three quarters of suicides in the UK, Andy’s novel technique teaches us an important lesson.

We are making real progress, Mental Health First Aiders schemes being a good example.  But, as always, more can be done. Being open and honest about how we feel is critical, but for this to happen the environment needs to be free from judgement. Training upper management and CEOs to embrace and champion a culture of honesty about mental health will encourage everyone as those in charge of our strategic direction lead by example in caring for themselves and their employees. But it is up to all of us to reach out to those around us who may just happen to be in need of support, and to foster an environment that empowers and encourages those who are struggling to say: “I’m not ok”.