Mental Health at Max Fordham
By Charmaine McKeown
14 May 2021
Our people are at the heart of our Practice and we recognise that good health is essential to us feeling motivated to deliver our best work every day. Good mental health is an essential factor in this.
COVID-19 brought about immediate and significant changes for all of us; impacting on our home, social and work life. The pandemic has and continues to touch all our lives in some way, and significantly for many. Our open and inclusive culture at Max Fordham has always played an important part in helping to make sure the continued wellbeing of our people is at the forefront of our interactions with our people. This openness has helped colleagues to look for ways to support and encourage open conversations about issues that are important to our people and the practice. However, we realised that this was not enough to promote good mental health amongst our people when the challenges were often significant.
To complement the Employee Assistance Programme already in place, colleagues were keen to increase awareness of mental health within Max Fordham and find ways to provide additional care and support for people who were experiencing difficulties and just needed someone to talk to. So we looked for learning opportunities that would help us with this.
Government-funded training gave us access to courses, leading to nationally recognised qualifications in Mental Health First Aid and Mental Health Advocacy in the Workplace. We reached out to all our employees and partners and invited them to put themselves forward if they wanted to be part of this initiative. Several colleagues had already expressed a keen interest in the area; and their desire to learn more about mental health issues to understand how they could champion and promote a positive culture of support for any colleagues who need it.
We are really proud to say that twelve keen members of our practice have recently either completed, or almost completed, their training, covering topics ranging from an Awareness of different Mental Health Problems, to developing their understanding and enabling them to be to be strong advocates for our people, championing good Mental Health practices within Max Fordham. They were all eager to use the training to contribute to the improvement of the existing health and wellbeing support provided by the practice.
To mark Mental Health Awareness Week and as they prepare to advocate for good Mental Health within our practice, we asked them for their thoughts:
“I wanted to get involved to broaden my own understanding of mental health, and use that to help others within our organisation. Having my own experiences of mental ill health I know how important it is to keep channels of communication open. I think it's really important for all of us to know that there is someone that will listen and guide you to the right resources.”
“I wanted to be involved as I had previously volunteered for other support organisations (Samaritans, Crisis and Festival Welfare Services) and have always been aware of the importance of someone being there for others who may be having problems, whatever they are. No one is expected to be able to cope with or take everything on, and it is not a failure to admit this or to ask for help”
“I volunteered to become a Mental Health Advocate to broaden our understanding of mental health issues within our organisation and be more mindful in the way I interact with people. The first step to reach out for help is the difficult part, but I am hopeful with my training I can encourage my colleagues, friends and family to support them in this process.”
“I decided to take the course as it seemed like a great opportunity to expand my understanding of mental health issues; I was also eager to use my training to contribute to the improvement of the health and well-being support provided by the practice.
“The project-based nature of the construction industry often leads to periods of high intensity as deadlines approach - this can result in the prioritisation of project delivery over and above the well-being of individuals, making the sector fertile ground for the development of mental health problems. It is hugely important that Max Fordham, and the sector as a whole, take steps to manage the ebb and flow of work, instead of simply accepting periods of intense stress as something that "goes with the territory" of designing buildings.”
"Mental health is as important as physical health but is not taken as seriously because it is invisible and can be difficult to define. Knowing there are resources available and familiar faces who can help guide you towards support gives a clear message that nobody has to feel alone with any struggles they may be experiencing."
"Mental Health Champions can act as a non-judgmental confidante, helping to identify early signs of mental health issues"
“Stress is an example of a key mental health issue within the workplace, and all of our roles can be stressful for different reasons. Each individual will cope and react to different difficult workplace situations in their own way, and sometimes this can cause stress. Stress affects different people in different ways.
A person with good mental health has the ability to thrive. We want our colleagues to thrive at every possible opportunity. An individual's experience at work can have a significant impact on their mental health. The practice has some responsibility, and I believe we should take this responsibility very seriously.”
"Mental health and well-being is an incredibly personal issue for me. Seeing people close to me struggle with mental health issues made me feel powerless to help; but to see these people overcome their issues is awe inspiring and reinforces that change can happen; as much as it may not seem possible at the time.
It is vital that we, as a practice, recognise the significance of mental health issues and are a champion for positive change. In such exceptional circumstances as those we have experienced over the last 14 months, people can often feel isolated and lacking the support they need. By providing a network of people who are experienced and knowledgeable around mental health issues, we can offer support to those who need it most. We should encourage people to feel they can express their feelings or worries to anyone. I would strongly urge people to talk to someone if they are ever struggling as people are more compassionate and caring then you could ever imagine."
"One in fourpeople will experience a mental health problem of some kind, but many people do not feel able to talk about this and seek help, especially in their workplace.
I feel strongly about looking after and supporting people I work with, so I volunteered for the course to broaden my understanding of mental health issues. I hope to use this training to be more empathetic and understanding in the way I interact with people, and to continue to break down the stigma associated with mental health conditions."