Supporting everyone’s mental health one conversation at a time


Supporting everyone’s mental health one conversation at a time

Mental health for decades has been treated as a taboo subject area. An issue many people would rather sweep under the carpet or disregard due to the lack of understanding around its complexities. In recent years, the conversation around mental health has taken a new trajectory, dramatically gaining prominence in a world engulfed in digital interactions. It has quickly risen to the top of many organisations’ agendas and is at the forefront of people’s minds in both their professional and personal lives. It’s clear that mental health is here to stay and rightly so.

As a national housebuilder, we have a responsibility to play our part in addressing mental health concerns within the industry. We have a robust programme in place to ensure that our community can speak openly about their problems, either in their professional or personal lives. In total, we have over 50 mental health first aiders across Countryside who are equipped with the latest training techniques to handle any issue. Our goal is to increase this so that every region and site is supported by a mental health first aider.

For Mental Health Awareness Week, it is important to tell the stories behind the people working to address mental health. We spoke to three of our mental health first aiders to shine a light on their motivations for helping others and why it is important now more than ever to keep up the momentum.

Victoria Deal, Group Recruitment Lead

Learning to listen and handle other people’s concerns could eventually become burdensome to some people. Not Victoria though. Since undertaking her training last year, Victoria has been a vital lifeline to her fellow colleagues. In her own words, “It’s a moral duty for everyone to ensure that not just our own mental health is cared for but that those around us are holding up”. Her empathetic nature and passion for helping others has seen her support over 20 colleagues with their personal struggles and worries. “I’ve had people say to me that having a conversation about their feelings that particular day has brought them back from the cliff edge. That’s a really powerful message,” Victoria explains. 

Alongside her busy role as Group Recruitment Lead, Victoria is also an Armed Forces Champion Lead and has overseen a programme within Countryside to help ex-military join the civilian workforce – a personal passion project of her own. “Ex-servicemen are incredible people. The stories they can tell, the hardship they’ve endured, and their wealth of life experience is incredible. We want to be able to unlock that talent and help them transition smoothly into civilian life,” Victoria says. Currently, there are 13 regional Armed Forces Champions across Countryside, all of whom have a connection to the military in some way. Each one has been equipped with the appropriate mental health training to help guide these ex-servicemen through the journey of working in construction. A truly impactful and meaningful programme.  

Paul Sweeney, Group Customer Services Director

Paul is somewhat of a Countryside veteran some may say, having worked for the company for over 25 years. A northerner at heart, Paul moved to Essex in 1986 and has never looked back. For Paul, mental health training was tremendously important to him. “The awareness around mental health is something which we need to play our part on. It starts from the inside and realising that it’s okay to speak openly about your feelings,” Paul comments. Having worked in construction for over 40 years, he has seen some of the struggles that people have dealt with. He goes on to say, “There’s nothing hereditary about mental health struggles. Nobody is immune to it and everyone can be affected by it”.

While Paul himself has never personally struggled with mental health, he has witnessed colleagues and friends go through some challenging times. Paul wants to push forward with a support mechanism that supports people no matter what stage that person is at. “It’s taken a while to get to this point, but we now recognise that submitting people to hospital to get checked up is not the only way to support them,” Paul goes on to say. “The rising suicide rate, particularly amongst young men, is tragic. Having worked in construction for some time now, I know that it can be a very male-dominated environment but we’re shaking that up by changing generational attitudes and including everyone in the discussion.”

Phillip Hartley, Operational Safety Inspector

As a mental health first aider, there are no limits to the type of person you could be helping. Phillip Hartley is one of those first aiders too, offering words of wisdom to everyone he comes across. His personable approach and ability to speak to anyone and everyone has greatly helped colleagues and friends of his with their own problems. “Make yourself available to each other regardless of your company position. Mental health is everyone’s issue whether you know it or not,” Phillip says. His sense of dedication and support is instilled in him from his service days. Having left the army in 2005, Phillip can tell many a story on what he has seen and been through. It wasn’t until he analysed a ‘Signs of Depression’ poster in a hospital in the Falkland Islands that he realised, he himself, had been affected in some way. “I’ve had several friends and colleagues from my service days commit suicide or been killed in combat. I expected the things I’d seen but it wasn’t until later in life as a civilian that I began to understand how serious an issue mental health had become,” Paul continues.

This wake-up call changed his perception towards mental health away from a simple buzzword to an issue that silently claims lives. Phillip works as an Operational Safety Inspector for Countryside and is usually out and about in the south midlands region. “When COVID-19 kicked off, I got in touch with everyone in my region to let them know I was here for them to speak to.” Phillip makes the time to speak to everyone on the sites he oversees, checking in on how they are doing. “Countryside has massively helped me go further as a person, especially since coming out of service. The perks and rewards that come with the job are nice, but the real benefit is knowing that there is a supportive, caring network of people around you. It’s rare to find a corporate environment with people who are so welcoming.”