Every September, we come together across the globe to recognise the ongoing anguish faced by millions and try to prevent more suffering. According to the World Health Organization, more than 800,000 people take their lives each year – that is one person every 40 seconds. The latest statistics for Ireland and the UK describe how almost 7000 people took their lives in one year. The theme for September 2020 will be working together to prevent suicide. Suicide prevention remains a universal challenge and one that, unfortunately, we are no closer to solving. Owing to the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown, millions of UK workers, already on precarious, zero-hour contracts, face an even more daunting future. Add workers in the construction and hospitality industries, and the situation and statistics are even bleaker. We must show solidarity with each other − professionally and socially.
Since 2014, RSK has consistently championed well-being through recognising how different factors can influence its employees’ mental health and providing a varied programme of initiatives and events to address each element of well-being. To maximise the impact of our efforts, we recognised that we needed not only to generate awareness, but also to have people on the ground across our business providing day-to-day opportunities for listening and talking. Since introducing our holistic approach, the number of trained mental health first aiders across the business has grown to 70. They are supported by more than 60 well-being champions from across the business who deliver a range of well-being events, initiatives and resources. These volunteers are shaping RSK’s well-being strategy and making a difference at local and regional levels.
Building on our holistic well-being strategy, we signed the Time to Change employer pledge, which demonstrates that we have a solid action plan in place to support mental health in the workplace. Our CEO and HR director signed the pledge, thereby showing employees that mental health is supported throughout our leadership team, and, to get the entire group involved, we created an RSK Time to Change puzzle with eight pieces. More than 1000 employees have already signed, which symbolises the solidarity among all RSK businesses. Employees that have seen the effects of mental health problems at first hand said they were glad to see that RSK is taking a positive attitude towards mental health in the workplace. Since the launch of LUNA, our internal magazine, last year, we have published two features written by senior directors. The stories detail the impacts that suicide and financial uncertainties can have on mental health. Ultimately, creating a positive and supportive culture is instrumental in removing the stigma surrounding mental ill health. Vitally, RSK advocates for direct intervention to help those directly affected.
Throughout the COVID pandemic, and specifically during lockdown, RSK CEO Alan Ryder has provided regular updates to the entire group to ensure that all employees are kept in the loop in this challenging time. More of us have been homeworking, with IT support and office equipment provision, and with no pressure to return to offices and the accompanying uncertainty. This has helped those with families to remain connected in their homes, not to mention enabling everyone to feel more secure and protected against the virus. Homeworking also means that we can exercise more easily on our lunch breaks, or walk to a park or similar immediately after finishing work; for Cycle to Work Day 2020, employees were encouraged to cycle or do some other form of exercise during the time they would normally commute to or from work. Homeworking has also encouraged us to conduct more meetings virtually, including board meetings, thereby cutting our carbon emissions.
During Mental Health Awareness Week in May, we shared images representing positive mental well-being. It was a great insight into the lives of our colleagues: we identified with others in a similar situation and didn’t feel so isolated. The resulting montage symbolises all of RSK standing together – the RSK family. By highlighting this sense of solidarity, we hope that anyone struggling with mental health challenges will realise that there is always someone to talk to.
During September, and on World Suicide Prevention Day in particular, we are especially sensitive to mental health struggles. Group communications will deliver suicide facts to raise awareness and outline how to support the global awareness day, and will indicate where to go for more information and how to access support.
The International Association for Suicide Prevention also encourages people to light a candle at 8 pm on 10 September, or to use one of their downloadable cards to get in touch with a friend or loved one. We will be asking our well-being champions to encourage our colleagues to do this.