Case study

How Southeasten Railway understands the power of personal experience

Lee Woolcott-Ellis
Lee Woolcott-Ellis

HR Mental Health Coordinator,
Southeastern Railway

6 mins

The UK’s railway Mental health in the rail industry Working in the rail industry involves some unique risk factors for mental health. The Rail Safety and Standards Board share their recommendations for keeping staff well. View toolkit system is a national treasure. It has a combined length of over 9800 miles, it carries nearly 2 billion passengers a year, and it runs every single day except Christmas Day.

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.

A woman working on a train station platform
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.

“There has been a steady uptake of conversations between colleagues and advocates since launching the programme on World Mental Health Day 2018 World Mental Health Day 2018: four voices With any luck you’ll have noticed that today, 10th October, is World Mental Health Day. The theme for 2018 is a fascinating and important one—Young people and mental health in a changing world—and we’re looking forward to seeing what different people make of it. There’s a limit to how much a work-based site like this… View blog post, with some positive outcomes and resolutions for colleagues struggling with issues both at work and outside of work,” says Lee. “The motivation for colleagues to disclose has continued to increase and the greatest outcome so far has been an increased uptake of those disclosing personal issues and concerns to their line managers following an advocate consultation, enabling the managers to initiate existing support processes.”

Signing the Mindful Employer Pledge enabled us to think about how we can increase awareness of mental health.

The firm has also used external resources to support their training. “I have found the resources provided by both Mind Mind Mind provides advice and support on mental health, and campaigns to improve understanding, across England and Wales. View organisation and Rethink Mental Illness Rethink Mental Illness Rethink Mental Illness helps millions of people affected by mental illness across England. View organisation invaluable in supporting our mental health programmes and initiatives,” Lee says, adding that southern are aiming to equip all line managers within Southeastern with the Mental Health First Aid two day course​Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England workplace training Web page Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England offers a variety of training for employers across the UK. This workplace course will qualify you as a Mental Health First Aider.Paid forRequires pre-booking By: Mental Health First Aid England View resource. This will provide them with an in depth understanding of mental health and the factors that can affect wellbeing.

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.”

Lee Woolcott-Ellis gives a mental health presentation
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.”

Lee Woolcott-Ellis

Lee Woolcott-Ellis
HR Mental Health Coordinator,
Southeastern Railway

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