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Time to Talk 2019: How contractors can get involved in the discussion

Time to Talk 2019: How contractors can get involved in the discussion

Around one in every four people will experience a mental health problem this year, but the chances are that people are so used to hearing random statistics that another one won’t mean very much. In reality, it means that whatever group of people you’re sat with right now, the chances are that one of them is feeling like they’re not coping with life. Not only that, they’re probably feeling ashamed because everybody else seems to be doing just fine. Time to talk 2019 aims to break down the silence and stigma surrounding mental health issues by starting a discussion, and here at Contracting Scout, we’re joining in.

The fact is that we live in a culture where we’re judged personally and professionally on our ability to cope with whatever life throws at us. Our social media profiles are carefully filtered and curated to show the highlights of our week, while at work we often talk-the-talk to project an image of competence. Mental health issues, on the other hand, are often seen as a sign of weakness. It’s not the same as talking about twisting your ankle on the football pitch or over-indulging at the weekend. While these things might cause discomfort, they’re cultural markers of a normal, functioning adult. By comparison, talking about depression, anxiety and panic attacks risks a person being judged as ‘defective’.

The statistics, however, point to a different story. The figures show that most of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in our lives, this can be anything from feeling suicidal to chronic insomnia. The way we live is often complicated and demanding. As people’s circumstances change, we can find ourselves with one too many things to cope with. Sometimes we’re not even aware of the strain that we’re under. The truth is that anyone at anytime can become vulnerable – a bereavement, the breakdown of a relationship or too much pressure at work can all bring us to a tipping point where we feel mentally unwell or exhausted.

The myths about mental health often hide the most surprising truth of all, that people who experience breakdowns, fatigue or anxiety can be some of the strongest among us. They’ll often be the ones trying to hold everything together, juggling a hundred things at once – people who don’t want to let others down, and who place high expectations on themselves. So what if we took the stigma around mental health and turned it on its head – instead, basing our understanding of the issue on the facts?

  • In 2017 there were 6,213 suicides in the UK and
  • In the UK men remain three times as likely to take their own lives than women, and in the Republic of Ireland four times more likely
  • Four million people in England are long-term users of antidepressants
  • As many as 16 million UK adults suffer from sleepless nights and insomnia
  • More than one in ten adults take sleeping tablets or drink alcohol to aid sleep
  • More than a quarter (28%) of people in the UK have consulted a counsellor or psychotherapist
  • 1.4 million people were referred to NHS mental health therapy in the past year

While the NHS has pledged to spend £2.3bn more a year on mental health, the service is struggling to provide care to everyone who needs it. In the UK, mental health conditions make up around 28% of the total burden of illness, but they receive just 13% of the total NHS budget. Meanwhile, the budget for adult social care, which provides ongoing mental health support, has been cut terms by 13.5% in England over the last eight years.

Many workplaces are recognising the impact that mental health has on people’s ability to do their job and providing access to extra support services for those who need it. While contractors are no more or less likely to suffer from mental health problems that anyone else, as temporary staff, they’re not eligible to access a workplace service. Additionally, they often work separately from their colleagues and might not have time to form the same bonds that can strengthen a person’s support structure when they need someone to talk to. Contracting can be stressful and highly pressured work, so it’s important to know who you can talk to if you’re feeling unwell, here are some suggestions:

Friends and family –one of the most important things about maintaining a good work/life balance is spending time on your personal relationships. Your friends and family are the people who know you best, they know your story and can often see patterns in your behaviour that indicate when something is wrong. Don’t shut them out. By acknowledging the problem openly you’ll allow them to help you if they can.

Online chat forums – There are several online forums, such as where you can share your feelings and experiences with other people. This can be a useful first step for people who aren’t ready to talk to someone face-to-face and can reassure them that they’re not alone. There are also online contractor forums with threads on mental health issues you might find relevant – or you could raise a question yourself.

Your family doctor or local healthcare centre – Both are good places to start if you need someone to talk to as they can advise you on your options. Your doctor might be able to refer you to a therapist. However, with record numbers of people seeking NHS therapy, this could involve a lengthy wait. Don’t let this deter you from getting help. If you have private medical cover it might cover the cost of seeing a therapist quicker. If you work in specific industries such as health care, Carers Direct and the Carers Trust, are able to provide support and advice.

There are many counselling and therapeutic ‘talk’ services available online, with major providers like Bupa who launched their digital therapy service in 2016. Many specialise in providing a range of counselling techniques (CBT, PTSD) for a range of problems, so you might have an initial consultation that identifies which would suit you best. Unlike forums, online counselling is likely to involve speaking to a professionally qualified counselor via a live video link, and this can be useful for contractors who are working away from home or feeling isolated.

There are also helplines available to call. Samaritans is a registered charity aimed at providing support to anyone in emotional distress, struggling to cope, or at risk of suicide throughout the United Kingdom, often through their telephone helpline. Samaritans operate totally free of charge and rely on a volunteer system. However, they operate a selective recruitment process and rigorous training for their staff. Other helplines include Mind Infoline, Saneline and The Mix.

Support groups – Your doctor or healthcare centre will also be able to tell you about any support groups in your area. These groups can provide free and immediate support in a none-judgmental setting where people enter into open group discussion based on their experiences. Commonly, there will be specific support groups for issues such as bereavement or behaviours that can arise from mental health issues such as alcohol or substance abuse, AA is one such example.

What’s crucial to remember is that having a conversation about mental health is a two-way process that means being responsive to the people around you.  Having the confidence to open up about issues that you might be having, or those you might have had in the past, also encourages others to open up too. Mental health issues can manifest themselves in many different ways, usually escalating from small signs like withdrawal, moodiness or absences. If you notice someone acting like this, just asking them if they’re okay can challenge the notion that it’s awkward’ or ‘shameful’ to talk about our mental health. Dealing with mental health issues can be frightening and lonely, by asking a simple question, you’re saying it’s okay to talk to someone, and that someone could be you.

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