Mental health issues impact on 1 in 4 adults. If you are not personally affected, then the chances are people around you are. Some years ago I had an interesting experience on a training course. I have mentioned this to a few people in the past but never written publicly before. Talking therapies in the workplace are on the rise. They certainly have their place, but are people aware of the dangers as well as the opportunities.
Some of my readers know that I have been a long term volunteer emergency responder (Advanced First Aider) with the British Red Cross.
Over the 30+ years I have been active and been involved at one level or another in many of the major emergencies that has impacted London and the South East of England. This blog is not about that, but the lessons we all need to learn from training and our attitude to mental health. based on the reflections of an experience I had after one event and the attitude some have to therapy based training.
This story starts on a NLP certification course some years ago
As a coach I have explored a wide range of theories and sets of underpinning knowledge. The realm of therapy, NLP, CBT etc provided some useful tool sets over the years.
The course was full time over 7-10 days I cannot recall the exact length. It was a practitioner level focused on the business community, not the clinical world as was common at the time. It was led by a well-known name/personality in the arena. There were around 40 people on the course assisted by 4-6 volunteer assistants.
The format was simple. A lecture or knowledge input session, followed by an activity or exercise. These activities were in pairs, triads or small groups. The main presenter set the scene and the assistants (former students looking to develop their skills) were supporting the learners with the activities.
All went well for the first few days.
It was around day 3 that I found that I could no longer participate in the discussions and exercises. After each input session and just before the exercises started I would quietly leave the room. I would remain out for the duration of the exercise. Then return.
After missing a few activities one of the assistants approached me. They asked if I was OK. I replied with I had some things going on in my head and I needed some space. This was congruent with the training on the NLP course. They accepted this and left me to it.
Over the next few exercises the same thing happened by the same assistant. Then once the individual said to me something along the lines of
”If you don’t participate in the activities you won’t get the certificate”.
Now this was not the first time I had participated in such training courses, so I did not need the certificate. But the way he said this upset me. It showed that they did not really understand the psychology of the content they were teaching.
So using the skills I had learn on the course, I checked that he really wanted to help me (gaining consent), he said yes.
I then proceeded to tell him what I saw, heard, felt and smelt when I was responding as a first responder to a train crash in West London just a few weeks before (Ladbroke grove Train Crash – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ladbroke_Grove_rail_crash ). I was VERY graphic. I shared every detail. He turned a little green. He then said to take as much time as I needed and left me. I could tell he was visibly shaken.
I must admit I felt better for sharing. I am not so sure he felt the same!
I suspect he was not expecting a person on a course to have a “real issue”. We need to always “expect the unexpected” when it comes to what is impacting people and their behaviours.
Rinse and Repeat…
The following day the course leader approached me after I opted out of yet another exercise. He also asked if I was OK. I said the same as before, “I have some stuff going on in my head and need a little space”. Correctly, He left me alone.
After the next exercise I missed he came back to check on me. I was starting to get a little fed up with this “attention”. What I was doing was not impacting other people, just reducing my ‘practice’ opportunities. I was careful that my obstaining was not putting others at a disadvantage. This time I checked he really wanted to know what was going on. He said yes (I gained consent).
I then proceeded to tell him what I saw, heard, felt and smelt when I was responding to a train crash in West London just 2 weeks before (Ladbroke grove Train Crash). I was VERY graphic. He also turned a little green. He then said to take as much time as I needed and left me.
Both the course lead and the assistant BROKE the NLP “rule” of sticking with outcome and process, not cause & effect. Because they broke the rule, this allowed me to “share” with them. It put them in an impossible place.
On the plus side, one of the other participants I met on the course has become a life long friend.
Having gone through being able to tell two different people, I felt a lot better. I started to participate in the remainder of the course. Both the course lead and the assistant both kept their distance! I did complete the certificate successfully, but you will never find it on a wall anywhere!
Morale of the story.
Many of these pseudo counselling or therapy courses, NLP, CBT etc have their value. In the right hands, with the right background, these techniques can be very powerful. BUT a one or two week course is just not enough. Sure it provides us with tools. BUT not everyone at work is stressed because they have too much work. Because they have a poor relationship with their line manager. Because they are being asked to deal with near impossible situations without time or resources.
Sure these things are stressful. Of course there are techniques that can help.
But sometimes, just sometimes, the person in front of you has REAL issues, and needs REAL help. Playing with these tools is IMHO dangerous.
Mental Health Talking Therapies – Know your limits
Practicing with NLP, CBT, Hypnosis or any one of 1000s other personal development strategies can be really helpful to many people. But as practitioners we need to know where our limits are. When to stop. Most importantly WHO to hand over to next. For if you tread in the wrong place you can do a lot of damage and not know it.
Why am I sharing this now?
I am active in several HR based online community groups. Increasingly I have seen people start to share that they are having mental health issues. It is critical that we all recognise that this is a normal part of life. Recognising that we have a problem is a great start. Being able to talk publically is an important step.
For years many people in the Learning & Development space have participated in learning tools from the world of psychotherapy. Sometimes it is the application of these tools in the hands of ill equipped individuals that actually does the most damage.
Now for me, in the situation I describe above it was perfect. I am/ was a strong individual that thought they were ok. I was not. People that were ill equipped offered help, and because of the arrogance, I accepted. My gain, their loss. I am sure they will never forget the “chats” we had. I was wrong unloading on them.
Mental Health First Aid
There is a movement towards the introduction of “Mental Health First Aid” training. One I strongly support. providers include:
- England: http://mhfaengland.org/
- USA: http://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/cs/
- Aus: https://mhfa.com.au/
See this BBC report on the subject and its history – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-29458635
An extreme event
Of course what I am highlighting here was a real set of events. It is in many ways extreme. But it did happen and it serves as a great example to people that “want to help” but are not equipped.
Of course we need to learn to recognise when people need help. We also need to know who to “hand people over to”. You do not see paramedics performing surgery, but handing patients over to doctors to provide the next level of care. This is exactly what we in HR and business need to be able to do.
Sitting behind a stressed or underperforming individual may be a person that needs help. We need to learn how to identify if a person needs help. How to approach them, and what to do next.
1 in 4 British adults experience at least one diagnosable mental health issue
In any given year, approximately 1 in 4 British adults experience at least one diagnosable mental health issue. This is not going to go away, and we need to learn how to deal with mental health issues as “business as usual”.
We cannot afford to run away, we cannot afford to hide it, and for the sake of the individuals, we cannot attempt to pretend that we can solve people’s problems for them
Practical ACTION NOW!
As a business you have First Aiders. Fewer than 30 in 600 incidents in the workplace require this training. But 1 in 4 may need mental health first aid this year. Are you as a responsible manager or HR professional supporting your people fully?