And it is staffed by teams up and down the country, with many working unusual hours or night shifts to keep the transport network up and running. One such team is Southeastern, which covers commuter and regional services in South East London, Kent and parts of East Sussex.
Lee Woolcott-Ellis, the HR Mental Health Coordinator for Southeastern, knows how important it is to ensure his colleagues are supported while at work. “Public transport is great industry to work in, especially if you like helping and supporting people directly,” he says – but adds that it isn’t always easy. “It can be difficult at times for our colleagues, who can directly experience encounters both positive and negative, including assaults, threats of violence and fatalities.”
Talking about my mental health changed my life.
Lee himself knows just how powerful talking about mental wellbeing can be. He has a complex post-traumatic stress disorder (c-PTSD)Complex post-traumatic stress disorderComplex post-traumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD, sometimes abbreviated to c-PTSD or CPTSD) is a condition where you experience some symptoms of PTSD along with some additional symptoms. These can include difficulty controlling your emotions, suicidal feelings, or avoiding friendships and...Find out more diagnosis, and has discussed his experiences in both a book and in the workplace. “Talking about my mental health changed my life and the lives of those closest to me,” he says. “It has been without doubt the kindest thing I have done for myself. Cathartic, rescuing and fulfilling. After years of being silent and not understanding why my thoughts and behaviours were not helping me, one day I asked for support and I received it.
“It is evident that with my talking about my own personal lived experiences has helped me shape my future and I can confidently support others in their life’s journey.”
As such, he is able to carefully use his lived experience to promote the importance of being honest about how staff are feeling and talking about their mental health. “I have found that my openness to discuss my mental health has encouraged others to do the same,” he says.
The motivation for colleagues to disclose has continued to increase.
One of the key mental wellbeing initiatives at Southeastern is the Colleague Mental Health Advocate programme. This is formed of volunteers from across the organisation, and offers staff the opportunity to have a confidential and safe conversation with an advocate about any issues, concerns or problems affecting them at work, at a mutually agreed time and place. No notes are taken, and no records are kept of the conversation. The advocate will encourage their co-worker to talk openly and will listen to them.
And, like many other firms, Southern has benefitted from making a public commitment to mental health. “Signing the Mindful Employer Pledge enabled us to think about how we can increase awareness of mental health, helping us to deliver our business, and provide support networks and information,” Lee explains. “[This was] a great start to making it healthier to talk about mental health in the workplace.”
I do not think there are ever any losses from running mental health initiatives at work.
Southeastern has already seen a powerful impact from pledging and running these programmes, including increased colleague engagement with work-based support services, strengthened manager/colleague relations and potentially helping to reduce absenteeism. “There has been a marked rise in colleagues speaking about their mental health struggles through video and other media channels, which has impacted well and encouraged other colleagues to follow suit,” adds Lee.
“I do not think there are ever any losses from running mental health initiatives at work and we are seeing a cultural change happening at Southeastern where it is starting to become normal to have a conversation about our mental health.”
One of the first, and easiest, things you can do to start improving mental health at work is simply to start a conversation. In this video, people from various industries talk about the importance of talking to someone.