South West CWU campaign supports Mental Health at work

CWU (Communication Workers Union) Reps from across the South West have started a campaign to raise awareness of Mental Health issues at work.

The union have been running the campaign in all Royal Mail, Parcel Force and BT offices in the South West region.

Keith Franklin is an Area Health & Safety Rep (AHSR) and the secretary of the SW Safety Forum – which represents 16,000 workers in the telecoms and postal industry between Penzance, including Isles of Scilly, and Gloucester.

Keith said:

Issues around mental health are big impactors on our members and their families, and for a long time we have seen little or no pro-active workplace assistance. In addition, there is a physical risk to their health if any member with a mental health condition is not given the help they require.”

The main campaign comes in the form of leaflets and posters which define the most common symptoms of mental ill health and then guides members to where they may be able to get help.

The regions safety forum have also sent motions to the unions annual conference, which have been passed and become CWU policy on how employers with CWU members treat staff.

Darren Rowbotham is a fellow AHST covering the EX/TQ Postal code areas from North Devon to Torbay.

Darren has been working with Exeter Mail Centre and the local delivery offices, including rural areas such as Dartmoor – this has started by placing posters onto noticeboards and using Social Media to raise awareness of the issues and kick start discussions at work.

Darren explained:

We’re keen to raise the awareness of mental health at work, and even home life, as we have seen a gap within Royal Mail and BT. Mental Health is not easy to recognise and not something some members like to share. By sign posting members to helplines, such as Mind or The Samaritans, the union can help end the stigma and let members know help is available.”

It’s clear the membership have welcomed this campaign as they see that mental health problems are on the rise.”

As well as posters and leaflets reps have also completed a couple briefing sessions to members in workplaces where local managers have agreed. This has allowed them to offer support and reach large groups.

The job of rolling out the campaign is a big one for reps, Darren’s patch alone consists of 45 Royal Mail units ranging from small rural units to the large Exeter Mail centre. This covers indoor workers, delivery members and Logistics drivers. This also includes all types of shifts as the company works 24 hours a day.

Tracey Rickard is the SW Safety forum Chair, and AHSR for the TR postcode:

The campaign we have been running has really started to make an impact especially as so many suicides of young people, especially young males, are occurring in society.”

By us, as the SW Safety Forum, highlighting mental ill health issues it’s enabling the delicate subjects such as suicide, depression, dementia etc. to be spoken about freely. Using the posters we provide gives everyone the opportunity to find out information and ultimately, if needed, find the right path to getting assistance for either themselves or friends or family members.”

We aim to remove the stigma around mental ill health issues”

CWU Reps Keith Franklin, Tracey Rickard & Darren Rowbotham

Despite the amount of work involved they are already planning the next step as Keith explained:

We are looking at getting all area reps or safety coordinators onto a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course, ideally this would be extended to workplace safety reps also.”

Darren added that:

We have had a training day in Bristol from the UK Stress Network which focused a lot on stress as a trigger and how to cope at work. I have also been planning a short video to advertise the campaign and sign post members to the information we have supplied.”

The next thing for us is MHFA and I’ve already been talking to unionlearn about a possible course later in the year for reps as part of their new offer.”

Keith said that he feels this is a really important area of work for trade unions and how they support members.

Keith said: 

I have had members who have come back to me saying they have spotted symptoms from the poster campaign either in friends or family/themselves and have been able to get help before hitting a crisis point.”

I also believe that we have shaped CWU policy through our conference policy and thus have forced employers to up their provision for our more vulnerable members.”

Darren added:

Before this I have had limited experience with members and mental health.  Some of the ones I have assisted leaves a lasting impression which is why it was important for the reps to have training too.”

It’s been good to have the workplace discussions and listen to other people’s views and experience. This has been valuable for everyone - including myself.  It provides a great deal of inspiration and shows why this campaign was needed in the first place.”

I am proud it was the local CWU Safety Forum which created the campaign.”