25th November, 2019 | Queen Elizabeth II Centre
25th November, 2019 | Queen Elizabeth II Centre

Samaritans launch Wellbeing in the City

Ruth Sutherland, Samaritans CEO, spoke to us about the importance of this initiative and the impact of stressful working on our mental health. 

Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy and Samaritans’ vision is that fewer people die by suicide.

Our volunteers receive a call for help every six seconds. People contact us for many different reasons including loneliness, relationship breakdown, work pressure, mental health issues, bereavement and thoughts of suicide.

Our helpline will always be at the heart of what we do. We’re there for anyone, whatever they’re facing, 24 hours a day. We also work hard to prevent people from reaching crisis point by supporting people on the railways, in schools, in prisons and in the workplace.

People face very different pressures today compared with 1953 when Samaritans began. In the workplace, heavy workloads, tight deadlines and lack of managerial support are the main factors causing work-related stress, anxiety and depression.

Technology means we’re more connected than ever, which is great for flexible working, but it also makes it hard for some of us to switch off from work. People feel they are expected to be on call, accessible and available, 24/7.

The good news is that there’s been a real shift in recent years and mental and emotional health are being discussed and taken more seriously. Employers understand the importance of helping their staff through difficult times.

We’ve launched Wellbeing in the City, a free interactive learning tool which helps staff look after their own emotional and mental wellbeing and support colleagues. Developed with the Lord Mayor’s Appeal, the online training has already been completed by thousands of people, including employees from Bank of England, KPMG, PwC and the Civil Service.

Employers can play a crucial role in supporting people, so they can look after their emotional health. Colleagues and line managers can provide an important social and emotional support network.

Work can also give us a sense of purpose and accomplishment. This is particularly true for people with complex and difficult personal lives, as the workplace can become an escape and somewhere that they can thrive.

A happy, healthy workforce is also good for business. Prioritising staff health and wellbeing improves staff engagement, productivity, presenteeism and customer satisfaction.

It’s encouraging to see so many companies stepping up and taking action to support their staff. But to make a meaningful difference, it must come from the top.

We need more CEOs to stand up and say: “This matters and here’s what we’re doing about it”. Staff need to be given permission to ask for help, without fear of judgement.”

Samaritans works with companies across several sectors to support staff wellbeing. PwC and the Civil Service are two examples of employers making strides towards creating more supportive environments for their employees.

PwC has a mental health advocates scheme which provides a safe space for people to talk about their feelings.

Ben Higgin, a PwC Partner and mental health advocate, said: “I was amazed at the people wanting to come and talk, and they were so frank about what was going on in their lives. It was clear to me that people were dealing with lots of stuff, often on their own. Whether it be dealing with issues outside of work, being diagnosed with a mental illness, or even in some cases, that they were having suicidal thoughts.

“The scheme started with a small number of partners as we wanted it to be led from the top, but we knew we needed to expand to properly tackle mental health. So when the opportunity came up to work with Samaritans, and bring Samaritans’ skills into the workplace, I jumped at the chance.

“What we got is a new way of developing skills, focused entirely on people and their stories. What Samaritans helped us to do was to develop something that was emotional and connected on a human level.”

The Civil Service launched Samaritans’ Wellbeing in the City to its 400,000 employees on World Mental Health Day on 10 October. Among its diverse workforce are prison officers, weapons engineers, job centre coaches and marine biologists.

Jonathan Jones, Civil Service Health and Wellbeing Champion, said: ”The Civil Service is committed to being a leading employer on mental health and becoming the most inclusive employer by 2020. It is vital that civil servants are able to hold open conversations around mental health, ending the stigma associated with it. I am grateful to Samaritans for developing the Wellbeing in the City tools, which will bolster the support already available to our employees.”

To find out more about working with Samaritans, visit samaritans.org/business.