There’s a mental health crisis going on out there, warns Govan veteran

A welder who has worked in the Glasgow shipyards for more than 35 years will be a guest speaker at a major mental health conference this week.

Mental health pioneers will take part in a conference this week. Picture: TSPL
Mental health pioneers will take part in a conference this week. Picture: TSPL

John Brown, 58, a shop steward with BAE Systems in Govan, will tell of his battle with depression since the age of 12 and how he finally got help after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

He will address the audience of psychologists, HR experts and union representatives at the Work’s Mental Conference which takes place at Edinburgh City Chambers on Thursday, hosted by Glasgow mental health pioneers Headtorch.

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Mr Brown said it was “absolutely crucial” that businesses take the mental wellbeing of staff seriously in the next decade, with Scotland currently having the highest suicide rate in Britain with 16.1 deaths per 100,000 people.

He said: “In the last year I have been touched by five suicides - three guys that I worked with.

“I was involved in stopping a suicide at a railway station and one of my workmates told me about a single mother who was suffering from depression and took her own life. There’s a crisis going on out there.”

Mr Brown said BAE Systems is the first company he’s ever worked for that pays sick pay but the work is still “tough” with his day starting at 4.30am.

He said there are telltale signs of mental illness that would lead him to intervene with a colleague before that becomes a crisis and is escalated and HR get involved.

These include someone using half their annual leave up in the first three months of the year to a worker using up all their holiday entitlement then going off sick – “an absolute sign”.

He also has little time for those who label the younger staff “snowflakes”.

Mr Brown added: “I don’t like the term.

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“There’s a disparaging of young people in society and using the term snowflake, doesn’t help them and doesn’t help society in general.

“I tend to challenge it - everybody I’ve dealt with has had serious problems.”

Andrew Rodgers helped revolutionise HSBC’s attitude to staff as director of wellbeing at the international bank and now works with other big businesses to change their culture.

He said: “HSBC wasn’t achieving its potential because of a toxic, high-pressure culture.

“In common with most banks, managers tended to pass that pressure down to their staff.

“Almost every task was set with a tone of ‘this is urgent, this is serious, this is really important’.

“But that pumps your employees full of unhealthy adrenaline and promotes fear.

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“Soon they become not just unhappy but unhealthy - both physically and psychologically.

“Now I ask senior leadership in businesses: ‘Is this an environment we are thriving in? Is this healthy and fun or actually slowly killing us?’”

Dr Wolfgang Siedl, who advises blue chip companies on health and wellbeing strategy said: “Too many businesses stigmatise mental health issues or simply don’t take them seriously at all.

“Nearly 70 per cent of managers in a recent study felt they had to put the wellbeing of their company before the wellbeing of their staff.”