When we chose to focus on health and wellbeing for the February issue, it gave us the opportunity to address a topic that has a profound impact both on the individuals that work within the industry and the companies that employ them: mental health.
A whole catalogue of issues fall within the health and wellbeing band. We could have chosen to focus on hand arm vibration or silica dust – without doubt two of the most immediate risks threatening the physical health of those building and maintaining the railway. We could also have chosen to highlight fatigue, musculoskeletal conditions or healthy eating – all valid concerns.
We picked mental health because it is something that affects around one in four people. Mental illness is indiscriminate. It affects people of all ages and of all backgrounds.
It is safe to assume that everybody has had some encounter with mental illness. Some people will have struggled with depression and anxiety themselves, often without seeking professional health. Others will have looked on in concern as a friend or family member grapples with their demons.
While I was putting this month’s magazine together, I published a post on LinkedIn about our mental health feature, expecting perhaps a couple of likes and well-wishing comments. The response was emphatic and demonstrated the weight of feeling within the industry to see mental wellbeing treated as seriously as physical safety.
One of the people who got in touch after seeing the post was Matt Kent – a mental health consultant who spent several years working for Network Rail. Coincidentally, he had just filmed a conversation with Network Rail’s chief executive, Mark Carne, about what mental health means to him. He talked about the hidden impact mental illness has on performance and the role employers need to play in supporting their employees.
Leaders like Mark Carne can help to normalise the conversation around mental health and make more companies take responsibility for the mental health of their workforce, particularly when medical resources are under great strain around the country.
The reasons why someone may struggle with their mental health can be complex. It is a difficult topic to broach and not always easy to solve, but the first step is starting that conversation. Ask someone how they are today. You’d be amazed how much you can help.