Mental health, well-being and some timely advice for the security sector
One of the key challenges today is maintaining mental health. How can professionals in the security sector support themselves, their colleagues and their organisations to achieve good mental well-being?
There is a growing movement to raise mental health awareness, stop the stigma associated with mental illness and improve workplace understanding and support. This is of increasing importance in the security sector, where people often work in isolation in challenging roles and may feel hesitant about discussing their mental health.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought additional pressures, with security staff continuing to work during lockdown to keep staff and buildings safe, with the risk of feeling alone and vulnerable, concerns about health and family members, job retention and potential financial problems.
In light of this, Perpetuity Research and World Excellence Awards recently held a webinar: ‘Mental health, well-being and the security sector’, with chair Martin Gill and a range of specialists sharing their expertise and good practice:
Pippa Seed: Mental Health First Aid England www.mentalhealth-training.co.uk.
Philip Ingram: Managing Editor at Grey Hare Media www.greyharemedia.com
Harmeet Anand PCC: Executive Ontological Coach https://coach4max.com
Yolanda Hamblen: Account Director at DS Security Operations www.dssecurity.co.uk
Here are some of the highlights of their discussion.
The importance of mental health
The panel began by introducing their approach to mental health. Pippa Seed opened with, “Our mental health is very much a part of our overall health and quite often overlooked. Like our physical health, our mental health exists on a continuum and fluctuates in different times in our life, depending on how much support we’ve got it and how many stresses we have.”
Philip Ingram added, “One in four of us at some point suffer from some form of mental illness. I describe myself as a depression and PTSD survivor – I’ve managed to get the normal me back. This is one of my key messages: it is a normal, treatable condition and at times, we all may need a little help.”
Harmeet brought her perspective: “We are part of a culture where it’s declared that rational thinking is what makes us great human beings. I bring the integrated aspect of us as human beings, so that we can begin conversations around emotions and moods and shape cultures where we bring all of that which makes us humans.”
Yolanda said, “Security roles require a tremendous amount of resilience and discipline. Our officers have to be very diligent in carrying out their duties. Leaders in security have to go that extra mile to ensure our people know how to be equally as resilient over their mental health.”
How security organisations can support their staff with mental health issues
The panel discussed the importance of security organisations embracing mental health at the highest levels. Yolanda said, “There is a greater need now more than ever to have far better personal contact with our colleagues. One of the key things is to see leadership acting proactively; making sure that our colleagues on the frontline always have somebody to talk to, feel part of a team rather than feeling they are on their own.”
Yolanda expanded on employer responsibilities: “We need to make it a safe space for our people to be able to come to us with concerns around mental health. We need to keep an open dialogue and help people to feel empowered.”
Pippa added, “We need organisations to look after their employees’ mental health illness or mental wellness and encourage them to make support available at an early stage. Maintaining good mental health is actually a lot easier as an organisation than trying to help people if their mental health deteriorates; it is easier to intervene at an early stage.”
A key aspect of this is overcoming the stigma around mental health. Yolanda explained, “People assume that they will meet with judgement, that if they talk about being stressed or overwhelmed, when promotion comes up, they will be passed up because they’re not good at dealing with things. A change in attitude is needed. If you have the self-awareness to acknowledge you have a problem, then it should be viewed as a positive thing. I would encourage organisations to lead by example from the top down, to give people that safety and that feeling that they are able to do that without negative judgement.”
Philip gave his personal insight:“You can see people disassociating themselves from you because they don’t want to catch it. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about mental health and what causes it and how it can be cured. Most mental health conditions will pass with little or no interaction from professionals while some mental health conditions require some interaction. It’s like any illness: if you interact very early it can be dealt with and treated very easily.”
Good mental health while working at home
The panel moved on to discuss how to maintain good mental health while working at home.
Harmeet advised, “Have strong boundaries between what you are doing at home and the work that you are doing. The biggest challenge is to demarcate your time and to identify those boundaries. When video conferencing, show up as authentic humans, have your camera on. It’s always good to see people’s faces, to remain connected – this is one of the aspects which people are missing.”
She added, “I notice a lot of leaders now learning to open meetings by asking questions around how people are feeling and showing they care by not immediately jumping into what needs to be done. Spending time understanding people is very important for the mental well-being of those you’re interacting with.”
Philip explained this approach to working from home: “It is important to have a routine and make sure you stick to it in the same way you would do in an office environment. Prepare for work as if you were going out, so get dressed, don’t sit in front of the computer in your pyjamas. Have a dedicated place for work so that work stays within that bubble and don’t move it around the house or your apartment. Make time for yourself and do some exercise. I’ve got a two-and-a-half-year-old border collie puppy and she’s fantastic at making sure that I do that!”
He continued, “Spend time with your family and share your stresses. Look after each other, so don’t be afraid just to pick the phone up and have a chat with someone. Ask them how they are and have a social chat about other bits and pieces. We’ve got the time to do it now.”
Supporting colleagues and friends
The panel discussed the ways you can support someone in a state of stress. The first stage is to recognise when someone is in difficulty. Philip explained,“The biggest indicator is a change in behaviour, like a colleague that was known for their diligence now being sloppy. This could be a cry for attention.”
The next challenge is knowing the right thing to say. Pippa said, “It can be really difficult. It is important to build a little connection, even if it is a public situation, and some sort of trust that you are there to help that person.”
When you have ongoing concerns about an individual, Pippa advised, “Acknowledge that you’ve noticed a change in this person, that they are not in a good place with their mental health and show concern. Create an opportunity for them to say what is going on for them. Try your best to understand where they’re coming from. Quite a common thing when you listen to someone who is having a hard time is to want to rescue them and offer lots of solutions and advice. This can be really alienating. It’s much more important to step back and let the person talk and for you to try and understand what it’s like for them, rather than trying to solve their problems. Listening will help you to really assess what the situation is for that person and to encourage them to get some support, if you know that’s appropriate.”
Harmeet advised, “To help people connect I also ask where they are feeling the stress in their body because that’s where people tend to lose their connection. It’s a difficult question to ask because many of us have completely dissociated with our physical self. We think we exist purely in the head. We get paid for all our credentials, knowledge and expertise. I also help people connect with their breath as one of the key ways to shift people from being stressed.”
Signposting security professionals
The panel next shared how to signpost colleagues to help. Philip advised: “If you can talk to family or friends that’s a good start. If you can’t, talk to a colleague you can trust. If it’s getting more serious, there are a number of charities and professional organisations that are easy to find. Then, ultimately, if you’re in crisis, see your GP.”
The panel were asked to conclude with their most important advice.
Yolanda began. “For me, it is the three Ps: Proactive – ask questions; People they can approach; Policy on mental health. I also want to leave you with a question: how many people in your organisation have self-assessed with mental health concerns as opposed to a physical sickness? That’s an interesting question.”
Harmeet added, “Human cognition is not something that happens exclusively in our brains; it happens in our nervous system. And our nervous system is all over our body. When we are looking to make any change, we need to make sure that we are completely embodying it, we are able to talk about our feelings and we are connected with our soma (our body).”
Philip said, “I’d emphasise that mental health issues are either a condition or an illness and therefore can be treated. Culture is important and it’s vital that everyone within your organisation understands that at times it’s alright not to be alright.”
Pippa concluded, “It is so important for organisations to embrace mental health as a whole as part of the culture of the organisation and on an individual level. I would also say keep in touch with people at these times when people do feel disconnected.”
‘Mental health, well-being and the security sector’ was part of a series of Thought Leadership webinars being hosted every Tuesday and Thursday during the COVID-19 pandemic, free and open to all, by Perpetuity Research and World Excellence Awards. For more information see theospas.com
City Security magazine
For further reading, see our Security Careers category and the articles Mental Health for security personnel and Security staff frontline in efforts to tackle suicide.