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Employers must go beyond awareness-raising on mental health

Organisations must go beyond awareness-raising and start taking more practical action to tackle mental illness, according to mental health campaigners Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn

Benjamin and Laybourn – known as the Waterloo Bridge campaigners due to Laybourn intervening moments before Benjamin attempted suicide – recently joined forces with employee engagement specialists Employees Matter to work with businesses to devise strategies to tackle mental health issues. They launched 'This Can Happen,' a conference to bring businesses together and shift away from awareness issues towards practical solutions.

“It’s an incredibly complex, multi-layered issue, but we’ve got to remember that one of the major points of tackling mental illness is to save lives. Just saying that your organisation has a positive approach to mental health isn’t always enough to get people to open up,” Benjamin said.

“We’ve found that businesses and employers are extremely positive towards tackling mental health, but the conversation needs to go beyond raising awareness. We need to work together to take action.”

The campaigners and Employees Matter have been working with men’s suicide prevention charity CALM, and the NHS, among others.

They added that employers should not attempt to tackle the problem alone. “HR has a huge task on their hands; they have a lot of different areas to juggle within an organisation. We don’t expect every employer to be experts on mental health, and there are no easy solutions. We would recommend that businesses engage with campaigners and charities to work out how to move forward,” said Laybourn.

Zoe Sinclair, head of Employees Matter, said that all levels of an organisation should be involved in improving mental health in the workplace: “Often it’s just CEOs who tend to be involved in conversations surrounding wellbeing, mental health, and company culture. At the conference we had executives, line managers, and graduates from companies to get an idea of the pressures facing workers at all levels.”

She added that men can experience particular difficulties opening up about mental health, citing statistics that suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under the age of 45. A study by the ONS last year found that male construction workers are at the greatest risk of suicide of any UK industry – 3.7 times above the national average.

“We know that men who are struggling can find it particularly difficult to talk, and have been working with construction companies and other male-dominated industries to encourage a culture where they feel they can do that,” said Laybourn.

This Can Happen, which launched on on 23 January, marked the 10th anniversary since Benjamin and Laybourn met on Waterloo Bridge. Benjamin had been struggling with schizoaffective disorder and was close to ending his life before Laybourn saw him and intervened.

Laybourn spoke to Benjamin before the emergency services arrived and the pair went their separate ways. Benjamin later carried out a social media campaign to 'Find Mike' (the nickname for the man who saved him) and the pair were reunited in 2014.

The This Can Happen conference will take place in November 2018.