Off the shelf mental health

Written by: Chris Gourley, Links Worker Evaluation Officer, the ALLIANCE

Published: 20/05/2020

"As far as is possible, involving people in decisions that affect them is profitable on many levels."

Upon striking up a conversation with a lady serving me in my local supermarket I was reminded that this week was Mental Health Awareness Week.

In response to my cheerful enquiry, the lady relayed this was the reason the guys working in the shop weren’t wearing their usual uniforms, which struck something of a chord I guess.

The importance of a flexible, more autonomous, trusted and empowered frontline workforce was knocking around my head already, as just prior to my jaunt for the weekly essentials I’d been writing a report on The ALLIANCE’s Links Worker Programme’s lockdown period operational delivery.

These traits are central to the culture we have been committed to fostering since the inception of the programme. With Community Links Practitioners (CLPs) adapting to working remotely, they have been conducive to having managed to deliver over 3000 links interactions/appointments in the first six weeks of the lockdown period. Vital work given the apparent increased impact of COVID-19 on the communities in which the programme works. And delivered of course whilst CLPs are experiencing their own challenges like the rest of the population.

Only by allowing people to bring their true selves through in a role will the most effective performance be realised. This is certainly true of the work of CLPs in helping relate to those experiencing disadvantage, supporting them in equipping themselves to tackle the complex challenges they face and take greater control of their own wellness. As it is of shop staff, of whom COVID-19 has reminded us the importance of, in common with other keyworkers displaying stoicism, bravery and spirit to continue providing vital services to the rest of us.

Workplaces and cultures therein can have a massive impact on community wellbeing. GPs involved with the Links Worker Programme state that workplace stress is one of the most common reasons they find people sitting in front of them. The prevalence of such is similarly mirrored in the programme’s own datasets.

Among the various aspects of social determinants of health which he played his part in mainstreaming understanding the importance of, Scotland’s last but one, and hitherto, longest serving Chief Medical Officer, Sir Harry Burns, often highlighted the increased prevalence of mental health issues across professional grades and organisational hierarchies.

Important in ameliorating this is that people feel a sense of control over their fate, being done with rather than done to, as well as apprehending a sense of meaning from work, which for most of us financial necessity means comprises such a large proportion of our time. As far as is possible, involving people in decisions that affect them is profitable on many levels. More often than not a whole host of unnecessary faff will also be negated.

In his book Responsibility in Public Service, Richard Davis uses worthy existing examples to argue that truly transformational system change that leads to the furtherance of these organisational traits is necessary if we are to allow emergence of truly responsive person centred services that meet the most complex needs of those in disadvantage. When high trust between management and staff can be demonstrated, this will lead to mutually reinforcing greater trust between public services and the public at large.

Recently I was pleased to be able to support a relative to be assertive in reducing their own stress and helping foster a more trusted, flexible, less monitoring focused approach within their workplace during the lockdown enforced move to home working.

Among a few innovations was the doing away with an unwieldy performance tracker that took up time and did not reflect the impact unreliable IT infrastructure had on their work output. Perhaps, as society emerges from this challenging and of course sad period, one of the silver linings, of which there are potentially many that we must all play our part in helping  realise, will be that lessons will be retained from the flexible and adaptable approaches to real world conditions that organisations have had to adopt.

Serendipitously, the random supermarket conversation also served to remind me of my sister’s wedding anniversary, as I referred to last year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which the wedding happened to take place during, in my wee speech at the reception.

Now, which card shops have reopened, and who’s staff have the best uniforms, or none?

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