World Mental Health Day: A new age of wellbeing, by Iain McPherson

Iain McPherson

2020 has been a year like no other. The world has been confined to the safety of our homes for the majority of this year. Looking back, it would be unimaginable to think we would spend the beginning of a new decade in such a way.

Today is World Mental Health Day and the wellbeing of people is more paramount than ever before given the current circumstances. Lockdown restrictions and the ensuing pandemic have amplified the need for support, and there is still so much to do.

Studies from The Health Foundation, compiled after the pandemic’s peak, provide a varied picture of the state of the nation’s mental health. Interestingly and alarmingly, the studies noted a greater proportion of individuals who have sought help and were not able to obtain access to services. Provisions for mental health were already strained and it is a worrying sign that with many individuals – young and old – shielding or self-isolating at home, we may witness an influx of cases further down the line. As recent as August, doctors from the NHS Confederation have found that demand for essential services may outweigh supply by as much as 20%.

While these statistics and studies are bleak, it helps to reinforce our duties as employers, colleagues, neighbours, friends and family to look after one another. Mental health concerns at home and in the workplace are now almost one in the same with homeworking and we must acknowlegde this.

I have been admiring my colleagues who have done a tremendous job of switching to remote ways of working in such a nimble way in order to continue delivering our values and purpose for creating communities. But with this new approach to working and living our daily lives, we musn’t forget about what we can do to support one another.

Across the country, our 55 mental health first aiders have been working harder than ever to keep in touch with colleagues and offer a helping hand when needed. Our focus is changing as we move towards 2021. We are aiming for a mental health first aider to be present on every site, factory and office. By doing this, we reassure our colleagues that support is here if needed and that they are not alone.

Going beyond fully-trained first aiders, we are building in mental health awareness training into all of our line managers’ personal development programmes to support colleagues from the ground up and identify tell-tale signs sooner rather than later. Our training and awareness-raising activities cover sensitive topics from domestic abuse to suicide and has been well-received in recent months by everyone who has taken part. By doing this, we are empowering individuals to safeguard themselves and others before more troubling issues arise.

Countryside has a duty of care for all of its employees but our goal is to instil a sense of compassion and empathy that goes beyond managerial hierarchies. Only in this way can we properly nurture positive mental wellbeing for everyone across the company.

In today’s world, we mustn’t forget about one another as we communicate with each other remotely, for the time being. Out of sight should not mean out of mind.