To mark World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10th), and the Dynamic Voice/Maytree event: ‘how can we enhance and nurture mental health in the workplace?’ (September 13th) Natalie Howarth, Director of Maytree Suicide Respite Centre provides a personal perspective on mental health, and on how this is nurtured amongst Maytree’s volunteers.
What does mental health mean to you?
For me personally, mental health is very complex and is closely interwoven with physical health and emotional health. Mental health can be very much affected by external factors, such as our home and/or working environment.
I also feel that mental health is a continuum, and that we can move up and down this depending on what’s happening externally and in our internal world - so it’s not a fixed state. If we slide down the continuum, and don’t know what has triggered this and this hasn’t happened before, it can feel very scary.
For me, if I look after my body I feel more resilient generally, so my mental health is better. If I am feeling physically fragile then my mental thought processes can feel crowded and I can worry more. So it’s important for me to look after my body.
What are some of the ways in which the workplace shows up in the experiences that Guests bring to Maytree?
It’s noticeable that increasing workloads is a common thread for people working in the ‘caring services’, for example, GPs, probation officers and teachers. Since the economic crisis there is a lot of pressure on organisations and people are having to work much harder. This has an impact on people’s wellbeing.
Guests also sometimes talk about how supportive their organisations are: when they feel well supported and listened to at work this really makes a difference.
Sometimes it seems harder for Guests who work within the health system and are responsible for other people’s care to ask managers for support.
Maytree relies on a volunteer force of about a hundred people. Tell me something about them.
They are from all walks of life. They all volunteer for a reason. Many of them have been affected by mental health or suicide - perhaps someone in their family or friendship group, or a work colleague has taken their own life. Other volunteers are ex Guests who have perhaps attempted suicide or have felt suicidal.
All volunteers, who go through rigorous selection and training, have a unique and special way of being with Guests and callers. They have taught me a lot.
What I notice is that they all have the confidence to be themselves and are really comfortable in their volunteering role. They have precious qualities that don’t come from a training course or a text book: compassion, warmth and a free giving of their time.
What kinds of things does Maytree do to optimise mental wellbeing amongst volunteers?
We run confidential reflection groups where volunteers can talk about their experience. They also have access to the local gym, as it’s important for volunteers to look after their physical wellbeing, as this helps their mental wellbeing.
There are also handover and debriefing sessions when shifts change. Volunteers can also always call me or one of the Coordinators if they want to discuss or share anything. In Maytree nothing is ‘taboo’ and everything can and is talked about: suicidal feelings and the struggles that Guests and callers have been through.
In Maytree, it is simply the power of talking and having the space and time to be heard and to listen that transforms experience. One Guest summed this up by saying ‘the power is not the house but everyone in it’.
Why do you think mental health in the workplace is so important?
In Maytree it is my responsibility to ensure that staff and volunteers can talk about their mental wellbeing. It would be quite reckless to expect people to be with and listen to Guests and callers if they didn’t have the opportunity to express their own feelings. More broadly, staff wellbeing must make an important contribution to an organisation’s productivity.
What do you do to look after your own mental health?
My allotment is my haven. I go there to reflect. I also go to yoga and meditation retreats which really hold me together. I can feel a relief and an unpeeling of tension and stress. I also make sure that I have people to talk to about anything that is on my mind.
Interview with Nat Howarth by Steve Colson, Dynamic Voice trainer and facilitator and Maytree volunteer.
If you are a CEO, senior leader, HR Director or senior manager with an interest in mental health at work, attend the event on September 13th (2 pm to 6 pm) that is being co-hosted by Dynamic Voice, a learning and development consultancy, and Maytree Suicide Respite Centre. This highly interactive event will contribute to the vital organisational debate on mental health at work, challenge the mental health taboo, and identify practical actions that organisations of any size can take to enhance mental health at work.
For more information see our event information here: https://dynamicvoice.co.uk/blog/2016/08/12/event-wellbeing-in-the-workplace
To book your place go here: http://bit.ly/wellbeingatwork2016