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Adrian Wakeling: It's in my head - a personal reflection on football and life

Tuesday 17 May 2016

Adrian Wakeling, Senior Policy Analyst at Acas, discusses how to promote mental health awareness at work.

Adrian Wakeling

Adrian is a Senior Policy Analyst at Acas and is part of a team responsible for informing the future strategic direction of Acas and influencing the wider debate on the value of employment relations.

Adrian Wakeling Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser window

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. In under a month it is the European Championships.

What's the connection?

The last time there was a major football tournament many fans were left a little deflated by England's performance (let's hope it will be different this time for fans of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland).

Following the team's early exit from the World Cup, the Guardian ran a rather amusing story about how such expectation/disappointment scenarios can scar the collective psyche. They took the football cry of "on me head son" and wrote the headline "it's in my head son" to describe the mental trauma of dashed hopes.

My point is that there may be a danger that mental health becomes all about individual testimony, and therefore something that appears to only affect a few individuals. Of course, real life stories are very powerful tools for spreading the message - as Rachel's blog illustrated recently. Even when I speak about mental health, I use the experience of a close friend to get my points across about the stigma of mental health and the difficulty of staying in work and getting back to work when you are living with a mental health condition.

But mental health is not just about an individual's lived experience. It is something that is often a shared experience.

Take the workplace. There are clearly some stages in our working lives that are likely to have a significant impact on our mental health - notably starting and leaving work. We all know the statistics about the percentage of mental health conditions that begin in adolescence.

And we are increasingly aware of the pressures on people to work longer and how difficult it can be to manage an exit, especially if you have caring responsibilities or health problems of your own. We have just carried out some research into how employers manage older workers and one of the key themes to emerge is how different generations are so easily defined by misleading stereotypes. More of this soon.

If you add to this mix, issues around difficult relationships and inappropriate behaviour, then it is clear how important it is to promote mental health awareness at work.

We have published an pdf icon Promoting positive mental health in the workplace [554kb] which aims to give managers the confidence to be able to listen to an employee without judging them and, where appropriate, make reasonable adjustments to help them work effectively.

Acas will be also soon be issuing guidance to help employers manage the upcoming football tournament - in terms of dealing with absences and requests from employees to schedule their hours around kick off times. Look out for links from the home page.

But this week is about mental health. The football can wait...

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