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Practitioner viewpoint - April 19

11 March 2019

Louise Ward's mental health awareness training has put her in good stead to reach out to colleagues that have been through traumatic situations and has had a positive impact on her own feelings too.

I MADE somebody cry today, and I’m proud of it! In fact he was the second person that I have had this effect on in the last couple of weeks, but I’m not sorry. 

Why? Because both of these colleagues had been involved in dreadfully traumatic situations. Both seemed absolutely fine on the outside, carrying on as normal with no issues. But something, some sixth sense, told me that something wasn’t right, so I reached out and with the words “so how are you doing really?” I opened the floodgates! 

But I was prepared. I’ve done mental health awareness training, and I’m a good active listener. I sat with each individual while they worked through their feelings about the horrible incident that each of them had been through. I reassured them that everything they were feeling was totally normal and to be expected following such an experience. I helped them identify solutions to the immediate and practical problems that they were experiencing, and signposted them to sources of professional back up and support. When they were ready I moved the conversation back onto more routine topics and we chatted over a hot drink before moving on with the day. 

Both individuals contacted me afterwards to thank me for reaching out. Neither had realised how much emotion had built up inside them. They were just getting on with everyday life, but both said that they felt loads better for having expressed the emotion, and both had engaged with our Employee Assistance Programme and their GPs to arrange further help and support.

There are so very many things that impact on our wellbeing in normal everyday life. Some are significant and require professional intervention, but in so many cases the old adage “a problem shared is a problem halved” still holds good. We’ve all been in situations where we realise that something’s not quite right with a friend, colleague or family member. But so often we hold back from asking about it, worried about interfering or unprepared to deal with emotion. Maybe we’re concerned that by engaging we’ll get caught up in the situation or feel obliged to ‘fix’ the problem. 

Worry and fear are extremely isolating emotions, and in fact just being able to share the issue and the associated feelings, worries and emotions can make a huge difference, helping the individual to realise that they are not on their own and to identify sources of help and support as required.

In the hustle and bustle of modern life we seem to have lost the art of conversation. We may use greetings such as ‘how are you?’ Or ‘are you alright?’ but all we expect is a platitude in return and we’d be completely thrown if someone answered honestly! We might have thousands of online ‘friends’ but we’re making fewer and fewer real human connections and interactions in our daily lives. I’m sitting writing this column in a crowded coffee shop in central London. There are dozens of people around me, but in fact I feel entirely alone. I doubt if anyone has even noticed me, yet alone considered my wellbeing! 

So, my New Years resolution is to reach out and interact with people more often. A smile and friendly good morning to the fellow commuters I see everyday but steadfastly ignore! A conversation with the receptionist as I sign in to the office, or an offer of assistance to the tourist looking lost on the station concourse. And do you know, it’s actually making me feel happier too. There’s something really nice about helping someone, or even just feeling a bit more connected to the people around me. 

So why not try it yourself? By being a bit more aware and engaged with each other we can make a real difference to our own wellbeing and perhaps offer some comfort to someone who feels like they’re struggling on alone.

Louise Ward is the health, safety and environment director at Siemens. For more information visit, www.siemens.com/mobility