Historically, mental illness was often seen as a taboo subject. This meant people had little understanding of its implications and many suffered in silence. However, the stresses and strains that come from all aspects of life can become serious issues and damage lives. That’s why our UK colleague, Mark Atkinson, felt something needed to be done to educate people about spotting and understanding mental illness, and to reassure sufferers that help is at hand.
I had noticed that more and more people were talking about stress and taking time off.
Mark Atkinson, PPG group leader for Birstall and Morley site, is out to change the way we perceive and approach mental illness at work. In his job, Mark has contact with most departments in some way or other.
First aid comes under his remit and he recently attended a mental health course, run by Mental Health First Aid England and supported by St John Ambulance.
The course taught me how to identify mental health conditions and introduce coping strategies to reduce the risk of mental health issues arising.
Stress and anxiety are now among the biggest reasons for absence in the UK and an increasingly important subject for employers.
Talking Mental Health at PPG
Mark was so inspired by the course, that he is setting one up for us at PPG. It will cover dealing with stress at work, but also at home, and helping you to gain better awareness of your personal stress.
We all have times when life gets on top of us, sometimes it can be work related – hitting deadlines or working away from home – sometimes it’s our own health or family circumstances.
The course teaches coping strategies to help build resilience to stress.
I personally like to get out of the office and walk the site, leave the phone off when not working, and whenever possible, get into the countryside to de-stress.
Mark hopes that all management level employees will take the course, and that all first aiders would become mental health first aiders too.
Mark Advises on How to Look After Your Mind
Firstly, he suggests talking about how you feel, honestly. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to a colleague, find the support group you can connect with. Always maintain a good work/life balance by keeping in touch with family and friends.
Look after your body. Keep active, as it boosts your mood, and aim for around 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week. Eat well by eating regularly, consume lots of fruits and vegetables, and drink plenty of water. Keep alcohol consumption to the advised limits – avoid binge drinking. Plus, don’t forget to make sure you get enough sleep.
Remember to take breaks, too. Walk, read, listen to music or simply pop to the coffee shop. This can help reduce stress and regain perspective. In your free time, take up an activity that you’re good at. Do things that make you feel happy, and enjoy meeting people while you’re at it. Caring for others is a great way to feel good, so why not sign up as a volunteer at a local charity or the PPG Community Scheme?
Don’t forget, if you’re struggling, just ask for help. Talk to your Manager, Occupational Health, Human Resources or your Doctor. They can all help or point you in the right direction.
Does Mark Ever Get Down About Work?
Of course, there have been ‘hard days and nights’ when you have to give yourself a pep talk before coming into work, but I always try and remind myself how lucky I have been.
Since Mark joined us back in 1980 as a warehouse picker, he feels he has learned some valuable lessons in his working life: listen to people, recruit well, trust your instincts, never stop learning, and treat others as you’d wish to be treated.
I’m very happy in my role and love to share my experience and support my colleagues. I hope to remain until I retire.
Outside of work he enjoys spending time with family, walking, traveling, reading, and listening to music. He also supports Leeds United Football Club.
The satisfaction at the end of the day is that you’ve done your best and tried as hard as you can to make people’s lives better, happier, or easier. That is what motivates me.