As part of Mental health Week and as an organisation who are striving to show our commitment to promoting mental health, We asked our very own CEO; Martin Blakebrough, his views on what mental health means to him and how we can better improve to support staff:
What does Mental Health mean to you?
We all have mental health issues, it is just that some health issues impact on others more. I think mental health is quite a scary issue for many of us, we worry about the control we have and we also do not know how to address issues within ourselves. So recently I dislocated my finger, it was painful, I was put in a cast, now have my fingers strapped but there is a clear road map to recovery and I get sympathy because people can see the injury. The unseen health issues associated with mental health means you often get little sympathy and there is a lack of clarity to get to ones recovery. The other key issue is that as with physical health there are numerous diagnosis in reality and suffering from a mental health problem may be a very minor health issue to of course a debilitating one. What is important is not to stigmatise people through our own prejudice and ignorance when someone says they are struggling with a mental health issue.
How do you manage your own mental health?
For me, I think running has been vital. I tried mindfulness, prayer, but I am too restless to cope with that. I find with the rhythm of running I find headspace which enables me to process feelings. I also am a big believer in exercise because it makes you feel better about yourself. Evidence for running for the over 50s has also shown it helps the brain with oxygen, which in turn reduces the chances of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
As I run in a club, the social element is key. I meet people from a variety of professions or none. It is great to be with people where the first topic is not about work. Social network is vital, it does not matter necessarily what your network is as long as you can find expression in that group.
I go on, but for me the most important way of managing my mental health is through family. Be that the one I grew up in, or the family I have made with Debby. It is a huge privilege to be loved and to have the opportunity to love others. Familial Relationships can be a cause of huge stress for many, but I am lucky that despite the odd bump on the road it is a huge support.
How do you recognise when your own mental health is suffering?
I am fairly useless at this. I am a typical man in his 50s that does not like to see a GP or think I could suffer from Mental Health issues.
What made me think about the issue was a car accident I had a few years back. I was at fault and I was forced by this traumatic event to ask myself difficult questions and I came to the view that I was out of control. It was very stressful at Kaleidoscope at the time because of uncertainties over contracts and I really had no coping strategies to manage my feelings. I was fortunate to have the advice of Debby who said she had noticed my stress levels had been really high and I was simply closing myself off from the family. I had become very short with people and I would appear quite angry at home. She suggested I needed to think about work life balance. This led me to seek a Life Coach who offered me 4 sessions. This allowed me to understand my work life balance and build a plan in terms of coping with stress and coming through uncertainty. The sessions focused on all elements of one’s life and it is probably the point where I took up running allowing me to have my own time. My youngest since applying lessons learnt noticed how less “Stressy I was”.
I still look at practical solutions to manage my mental health, I am full of admiration for people who have more complex issues and need ongoing support. What I would always say is never fully trust health professionals because sometimes they can become part of the problem for example either over prescribing or not reviewing the medication. So for me clearly there is an important part experts have to play but it never does harm to get a second opinion.
How do you see Kaleidoscope’s involvement with employee’s mental health?
I hope we are a supportive organisation and I certainly feel Simplyhealth is a good addition. The Counselling service for staff can be vital particularly when staff have been exposed to significant trauma in undertaking their job role.
I also believe the recent improvements to Supervision putting well being at the centre of what we ask staff to consider is vital.
I recognise that we still struggle as an organisation in supporting our staff with mental health needs. It is difficult when it is not properly diagnosed and of course it is challenging if people need time off because of the vital work all our staff do. I do think flexible working patterns may be of help to some staff struggling with mental health challenges but we do need to hear from staff as to the best way we can work in supporting them.
How do you think Kaleidoscope could better supports its staffs mental health?
I think helping people recognise mental health issues is of paramount importance. That we create a culture where people can be open about their health status so we work together for the best solutions. Health issues are often complex and there is not a simple formula of support that works, it requires working with the individual. This week is being used by Kaleidoscope to highlight mental health awareness, I hope we learn from each other and better support those most vulnerable in the future.