Working towards a much happier Lancashire

Karen Arrowsmith, Training Lead at Lancashire Mind
Karen Arrowsmith, Training Lead at Lancashire Mind

FIONA FINCH reports on plans for a new county workplace health conference and how everyone can work to adopt “five ways to wellbeing”.

It is an unexpected partnership.

Lancashire Mind has teamed up with the Lancashire Care Foundation Trust and the Federation for Small Businesses.

Why? The answer is to address a problem which is increasingly recognised costs many working days and creates unhappiness amongst workers, with an inevitable knock on effect on families and home life – stress and unhealthy lifestyles in the workplace.

Business and health bosses in Lancashire have now joined together to organise a workplace conference to be held early next year at Preston’s Marriott hotel.

The event is entitled “Time To Talk about Wellbeing at work” and will be held on February 7, which is also designated as a national Time To Talk Day by Time To Change, a movement working to change the way people think and act about mental health problems.

Karen Arrowsmith, Training Lead for mental health charity Lancashire Mind said: “We aim to create an atmosphere where employers can share ideas and learn new approaches to support happier healthier workplaces.”

There will be workshops and best practice speakers.

She continued: “Regardless of an organisation’s size or sector we all have a duty of care towards our employees.

“Employers may not be able to change the job that is required of an employee, but that can think about providing enough support to help employees cope with the demands of the role.”

Karen believes many people suffer without recognising they are reaching crisis point: “Many of us have accepted and normalised stress as part of every day life and often don’t realise it is affecting our mental health until becomes too much.

“Many of us don’t realise the difference between pressure and stress. Pressure can be good for us, it is a great motivator and some people work at the best under pressure as we have the emotional tools to cope with those demands.

“It is when we no longer have the emotional tools to cope that those pressures become stress.”

The statistics about mental health in the workplace are telling.

Karen said: “Statistically one in six employees are experiencing poor mental health at work but burnout is not isolated to just work, it may be a number of factors which are causing us to experience chronic stress.”

While the conference will show positive ways forward Karen acknowledges that too often there is a stigma attached to talking about mental health issues.

She said: “Just because somebody looks like they are holding it together on the outside does not mean that they aren’t experiencing burnout.

“Poor mental health is often invisible and unfortunately there is still stigma around talking about our mental health. Time To Change states two thirds of adults have

nobody to talk to about a problem.”

Karen urges individuals to seek help if they are feeling overwhelmed: “The signs of burnout are individual in all of us, however, they may include, feeling overwhelmed, stopping enjoying normal pleasures, feeling isolated or detached, poor sleep, overthinking, physical and emotional exhaustion.

“When these feelings and thoughts are affecting our daily behaviours, that is when we have to consider making changes or speaking to a health professional. Early intervention supports early recovery.”

She added: “It is important to look after your wellbeing in the both the short and long term.

“If you are struggling in the ‘immediate’ think of finding strategies to cope with those feelings, for example breathing techniques, time out, exercise, talking to others. In the long term we need to build resilience to support prevention of poor mental health.”

Lancashire Mind seeks to do this by offering workshops and training in schools, in the community and in business settings.

Some come free of charge, with others there is a fee.

This is one of the reasons the annual Mental Elf fun run, (pictured above), is so important for the charity.

It not only raises its profile, but also raises much needed cash. This year’s event, held in Blackburn’s Witton Park last Sunday, is expected to raise £10,000 and saw 370 people turning out and many county businesses adding their support.

Fundraising Coordinator Fabienne Clough said: “It will help us deliver services such as our Happier Lancashire project and our community development work. We do a lot of awareness raising.”

The aim is, she said, to give people tools to manage their mental health.

Lancashire Mind promote the Five Ways To Wellbeing, developed by think tank the New Economics Foundation. The Five Ways are a key part of the charity’s Happier Lancashire campaign.

The aim is to create a happier and healthier population in Lancashire and so reduce the risk of mental health conditions developing.

Karen said: “These are small things we could be doing each day to make each day feel a little better.”

She recommends:

1. Connect - chat with a friend, have a laugh with a colleague, call a family member.

2. Be Active - go for a brisk walk, take a bike ride, go for a jog or a trip to the gym.

3. Take Notice - spend more time living in the moment and notice the small things that you bring joy e.g.taking notice of nature, appreciating the love of a family member, getting a bargain for Christmas.

4.Keep Learning - engage in something that interests you, try a new recipe, talk to somebody different, read a book.

5.Give - kindness has its own emotional reward - send a message of thanks to a friend, make a brew for a colleague, give up your train seat to a stranger.

Lancashire Mind is backing RED January, an initiative which will encourage people to get active every day in January.

For more information see www.lancashiremind.org.uk