Looking after personal health and wellbeing are really important to me. I’ve worked in these areas now for 35 years and it’s been an emotional but rewarding journey, starting way back in 1983 when I worked in the Emergency Services.
It’s funny how one event can stay with you and change your outlook on life. I’ve seen people suffering a lot of trauma, but there was one moment that has stuck with me.
While training with the external services we had a call-out for a lady suffering an asthma attack, her husband had called the Emergency Services. He was in his 90s and disabled, his wife was his main carer. They’d been married for a very long time since the Second World War and had a truly special relationship, a strong bond. I remember making this man a cup of tea and, as I held his hand, I had to tell him his wife had passed away. Going through my head was what support does he have now? They had no family, I thought to myself he’s going to end up in a home. It was heart wrenching and had a long-lasting effect on me.
I hope I made a positive difference then and during all my time within Emergency Services on and off the site, something I’m still trying to do today. This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and the staggering fact is that 1 in 4 of us will suffer some form of mental health issue. This could be the loss of a loved one or a family pet, uncertainty around job security, financial concerns or relationship breakdown. As a trained mental health first aider and health champion, I try to help everyone who needs support.
My toolkit is basically tea bags, coffee and a couple of mugs set up in a private area. People need to be relaxed to talk and I encourage them to open their heart, knowing that everything they say is in confidence – they need to know the person they’re talking to is trustworthy. Having a cuppa and chat can make a huge difference – we used to do this in the Emergency Services after dealing with a significant event, it really pays dividends to help cope with traumatic experiences. And it can help too with less traumatic issues people deal with day in, day out.
And I’ve been there too. With restructuring at work, I lost my job and was off work for 3 months with work-related stress. I reapplied to work at the steelworks and wanted to bring my skills in to make a difference. I’ve attended mental health first aid courses, suicide awareness, Samaritans, NHS, Mind and drug and alcohol training etc. It would have been a waste of resources not to use those skills and it doesn’t cost anything. I wanted to make sure people that were feeling poorly or at risk could talk in confidence with someone.
The key is talking – it can be a real therapy. Over the last 12 months, I’ve helped around 25 people and it’s been really successful. Using support strategies like exercise, putting in place sleep patterns, listening to music (like I do on ‘Soul’ Friday!), signposting to different organisations, most people I’ve worked with have significantly improved – they say they’re more happy, have no issues and have even been signed off by their doctor.
I’ve also helped people in crisis, sometimes because of their financial position, referring people to the foodbank, who my department at work support each year. I find it surprising in this day and age that this is still the case but there can be huge financial pressures to support family, pets etc. In the steel industry we have a male dominated workforce where I think there’s still a tradition of men feeling they need to be the bread winner, it can be hard to break away from these stereotypical roles.
With our busy lives, it can be hard to find time to volunteer to be a health champion. However, the benefits of volunteering are enormous to you, your work family and your community. It can help you reduce stress, find friends, reach out to the community, learn new skills and even advance your career. Giving to others can also help protect your own mental and physical health.
Me receiving my Outstanding Health Champion Award
So I’d say it’s good for us all to look out for each other. Look out for the signs and symptoms when people might be struggling, it’s not always obvious. When people go home it can be a very lonely place – maybe work colleagues are the only connection they have. No-one knows what happens behind closed doors.
Many of us will have watched the recent story line in Coronation Street where Aidan Connor, played by the actor Shayne Ward, killed himself. It was an emotional rollercoaster yet when you reflect on what led up to it, you can spot the signs that Aidan was not in a good place. So if you think you’ve seen the signs in others, just ask them if they’re alright. You can direct anyone to the Samaritans on 0857 909090. They’re a fantastic service founded by local man Chad Varah, who was born in Barton-on-Humber.
I’ve learnt that in life you have to face your demons. Holding grudges doesn‘t help anyone, you’ve got to move on. Helping others is so rewarding, I was even recently approached in Morrisons by a stranger, who thanked me for the support I’d given her husband. It made me feel very humble, I’d made a difference.
Helping is the gift of giving and we all need help sometimes. No-one should suffer in silence – speak to me or any of the fantastic services available such as MIND and the Samaritans.
So to finish on a high! Just last week British Steel was recognised for its efforts to look after employees’ wellbeing – we’re the first company to receive the Platinum Award for North Lincolnshire Council’s wellbeing at work awards. I was shocked and honoured to receive an Outstanding Health Champion award too! Let’s keep this great work going and continue to look out for each other.
As a diverse company, in the coming weeks I will be approaching such subjects as LGBT and, more closely, transgender. I’ll be speaking with one of our colleagues and giving a personal reflection of working on the steelworks to support those in time of need. If you want to find out more, please get in touch.
If you require help and support, some useful numbers include: Samaritans (0857 909090), Mind (01724 279500) and the Community Union (0800 3896332). We also run an employee volunteer scheme. For anyone at British Steel wishing to help others, please contact Jill Caley – firstname.lastname@example.org.