Online Mental Health First Aid

What a whirlwind couple of months! If it has taught me anything it is that plans mean nothing, that order can come from chaos, and that we as human beings are capable of great things when we work together.

So many tumultuous changes and challenges going on in the world right now. Something to come back to another day – but here I wanted to tell you about some of the changes that this momentous period has brought about in my world of work.

Mental Health First Aid training is usually delivered face to face, in small meeting rooms, with a good amount of close discussion and interaction. Which is great – but a perfect place for viruses to jump from host to host, and not easily adaptable to comply with social distancing.

So the good people at MHFA England have been working their wonderful socks off to develop a version which can be delivered and studied online, which is now just about ready to go. All across the country, MHFA England Instructor members like myself are busy completing the upskill required to be able to deliver this course and getting to grips with the new platform and logistics requirements.

The course isn’t exactly the same as the face to face two day version – but it has the same learning outcomes for the delegate. And lets face it two days of zoom covering heavy content is unlikely to help the mental health of any of us.

So – instead, this course is made of a combination of independent learning (videos, activities, reading) – and live session teaching with your Accredited MHFA Instructor to cement, supplement and build upon that learning. There are four sessions, to be delivered over the course of a longer period of time, say a fortnight or a month, with the independent learning to be completed prior to each session. You get the support of your instructor throughout, and the same eCertificate, and excellent learning materials as with the face to face course.

The course is delivered via a new Online Learning Hub – hosted on the Enabley Platform (which works best on Google Chrome).

The course is valued by MHFA England at the same price as the two day version, £300 (+VAT where applicable) – However, I, and many other instructors offer at discounted or subsidised rates where possible. (See below)

I have set up three open courses so far to run in July, and will set further dates soon – so if you have any requests / preferences for days or times please let me know and I’ll see what I can do. Happily – this new option allows for great flexibility in terms of when I can teach – so we have evenings and weekends open to us now as well as through the working week, which might be helpful for those of you wishing to learn independent of your work.

See current courses here on Eventbrite

(If you are an organisation looking to set up a course / courses for your staff or members, please contact me for a quote which is usually more economical than the per person rates below.)

I have a range of prices to suit your circumstances. If you are able to pay the full price, you are most welcome to do so, it has after all been a difficult year so far and I could certainly do with the support. However I also offer two usual standard rate discounts – £150 for individuals, £200 for employers. These rates are at your discretion – I simply ask if you are an employer booking for work, or for your staff and you are able to afford it, that you choose the £200 rate rather than the £150. The more people are able to pay the higher rates, the more I can offer lower rates to those who need it.

If you are a charity, or on benefits etc – please contact me with your circumstances and I can offer a further discount.

I am also offering a number of extra special COVID-19 thank you rate places, for people working in the NHS or Social Care – of £25 only. This covers the cost of materials. My teaching is my gift to you for caring for our vulnerable loved ones and putting yourselves at risk while I have been able to stay relatively safe at home.

I’ll do another more concise post to advertise the actual courses, but I wanted to put a bit more detail out there. I can also offer the half day Mental Health Aware, and MHFA Refresher courses via Zoom.

It’s been a busy old month or two, scary and exciting to be learning and using new skills. I’m looking forward to this new venture. There are pros and cons to online versus face to face, but the pros definitely include flexibility, – I can imagine it will be easier for some to find a few hours a week to free up staff, where two days was impossible. There are also savings in terms of travel costs and time (for both myself and clients – especially where attendees might come from across the country to one location).

Another Week Begins

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

When did this lockdown begin for you? Some people have been staying home for longer than others – the official order to stay home coming 7 days ago, after a week of gradually tightening measures. People with underlying health conditions or over 70 are self isolating, others social distancing, allowed out only for exercise, to get to work if they can’t work from home, or for essential trips for groceries or medicine.

Some are struggling with this. Some bristling against the removal of liberties. Some having to face their own demons without the ability to drown them in drink. Some falling down conspiracy theory rabbit holes – determined not to take this at face value. Others are struggling when they see these others resisting the lockdown. Even when people are doing things technically allowed – going for a walk, going to the shops. People are jumping to conclusions and quick to condemn. It’s quite unnerving.

I haven’t been out much for a few weeks. A couple of walks. Two shopping trips. I wish we could drive / had a car. It would make it possible to stay in longer. I have worried about the last time we were out and vaguely social – making some attempt to be further apart from people than usual, but it hadn’t really sunk in. That was 10 days ago now. Hopefully we were lucky.

Or not lucky – maybe the odds were in our favour anyway. There aren’t that many confirmed cases around here – so whatever unconfirmed, unsymptomatic carriers there are will be less than in other areas. But without testing how can we know?

It would be helpful to manage our anxiety. To know the true relative risk. But then would it make us more complacent. I worry about the idea of immunity – are people truly immune once they have had the illness and survived? Is it too early to tell?

My mental state has been all over the place. Some days high anxiety – more obsessive handwashing and cleaning despite not having been anywhere. Some days blind panic, bleak fear for the future. Catastrophising. Coming up with a million negative outcomes, my brain can be much more creative than just a horrible death. I am finding it hard to concentrate on much some days – whether trying to do work, or read for leisure, or give myself permission to do something else – paint, make something, sew.

My husband is working from home. That throws me at the best of times. I find it hard to just “do my thing” when others are around, so I drift. Wash the pots. Put the washing in. Clean. Cook. Make the bed. Stare at twitter.

Some days are better. Today is better. I was awake at 2am. Two hours earlier than I needed to be for my slot on Radio 5 Live’s Wake up to money. Anxiety dreams. Worrying about my cat, who true to form picks the most awkward times to potentially need a vet. The programme went fine, my hands stopped shaking. I didn’t waffle too much. I didn’t get to say everything I might have liked to but it was interesting nonetheless. That was a good start, and I got some nice feedback.

The invite to speak came at a notable time. I have been trying to egg myself on to do more audio / visual stuff. To get used to online delivery – which is going to have to be part of the future. But I have huge internal resistance to this for some reason, and I had a big whinge-fest to my husband talking about how difficult I found it. I struggle with initiating conversation – even face to face – so the idea of assuming anyone would be interested enough to tune in to look at me speaking on a video or listen to a podcast, just seems presumptuous and rude and ridiculous. But only if it’s me – I love when others do it. So to wake up the next day to someone actually asking me to share some of my thoughts was a nice “Shut up and stop being ridiculous and get over yourself”. As I heard Shamash Alidina say the other day – Where we hurt, we care. The things that cause me distress are a sign there is work to be done there. I have discomfort because I know I want to do it right. Because I know I need to believe in myself enough to know I have useful things to say.

What do we want to get out of this time? To survive, and get back to where we were? A minimum – we don’t want to be worse off. But can we leave our houses better in some way? Learn something which will make the life we build in future more fulfilling and satisfying for us? Maybe even just use the opportunity to rest.

Those of us who can rest, of course. I am also mindful of the many people who are not at home – who are fighting for people’s lives in the NHS, who are exposing themselves to higher levels of risk to carry out the jobs that need to go on – care work, emergency services, lorry drivers, bus and train and tube staff, postal workers, delivery drivers, manufacturing and supply chain, food retail, farming – anyone in the supply chain. The anxiety of placing yourself in the line of fire – out of duty, or just the need to stay in work. And of course the added frustration of those whose employers are not being supportive, whose work is not essential but who are not being permitted to stay at home as advised. Some workers are used to having to put themselves in danger of course – firefighters, police, military – but even they suffer the consequences. It is not a natural thing to do.

All I can say is thank you, and beg your employers to provide you with the protective equipment, the sanitiser and washing facilites you need, and promise to do anything I can to ensure you are properly protected and rewarded and recognised.

Nothing is Normal. Everything is Normal.

Every conversation I am having is starting with something on the lines of “isn’t everything very strange”. Many of us, across the world, find our world has been turned upside down. Lockdown. Social Distancing. Isolation. Those of us who are having to continue working, continue going out there (sometimes to the most hazardous situations – to care directly for people with this virus, sometimes into situations that put us in closer contact with more other people than we might like, such as working in supermarkets, on public transport – wherever) – are having to cope with higher levels of risk than they might be comfortable with. Sudden loss of income. Wondering if we will get support, if so, what, will it be enough. Maybe our employers are not as supportive as we’d like, maybe they are being fantastic.

Most of us are experiencing something unusual. And we may be responding to that sudden change in a variety of ways, most of them based on fear.

Fear is normal. It’s sensible. Fear is acknowledging danger. You cannot be brave if you don’t feel fear. Bravery is feeling fear and dealing with it appropriately. Another word for fear is anxiety. Anxiety is a vitally important emotion, it means we are alert to threats. It also provides us with some tools to deal with those threats. Unfortunately it is not very sophisticated. It screams like a hypersensitive smoke alarm sometimes, and when we need tools it throws random things, rather than always something appropriate to the danger.

Fight
Flight
Freeze
Flop
Fawn
Friend
F***

A lot of effing responses. Direct and indirect ways of tackling or diffusing danger. Some perhaps the right response in different scenarios.

Fighting doesn’t always look like punching something in the face. Fighting can look like frantically checking social media, posting critical things about others who aren’t behaving as you think they should. Obsessively cleaning more than is necessary. Launching a free online daily yoga class and optimising your online presence. The need to doooo something.

Flight could be denial. It could be panicking and grabbing everything in the supermarket and pushing over the elderly lady because we are closing down our sense of protection. We fear scarcity, we subsconsciously decide who is our responsibility and leave others to fend for themselves. Yes, it’s selfish, but it’s not necessarily an active choice to feel like that. It’s something innate which will have kept our ancestors alive in some situations.

I have been frozen. Seeing all the activity online. Being overwhelmed in an avalanche of information and kindness. Wanting to do something, offer support, act. But struggling to concentrate, to focus, to think. To do even my usual coping techniques. Meditate. Clean. Walk.

I have also flopped. Some days I am so tired. I can’t find the energy to get dressed. Off the sofa. Do anything other than scroll endlessly

The other responses are more complex, and harder to parse to this situation but they will be there, or they will come.

There is no right response. There are those which are more or less helpful. For ourselves and for others. There are those which have more or less to do with the actual threat. Giving ourselves permission to freeze and flop a little might be exactly what’s needed. Not fighting against the restrictions which are meant to keep us safe, but which feel very uncomfortable.

Now though – we must come to terms with this new temporary reality. Take time to look at how we are responding and ask if it is really helpful, necessary, counterproductive? The impulse to hoard all the hand sanitizer and loo roll might feel sensible in that first jump to conclusions our anxiety is so good at – but it is no good being the cleanest person in the world if everyone else is covered quite literally in poo. We all need to be able to stay clean and clean our environments to keep each other safe. Can you do anything to rectify anything you have done which is unfair? Offer excess on local groups for those who need it. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. Forgive others for being human.

Be mindful. Look for the gifts in this time. Things will change, we have a chance to think – what will I be happy to go back to? What don’t I miss, what of this time would I like to keep?

Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Keep your distance

Exercise. Eat well. Avoid (too much) alcohol. Get sun on your face as much as you can in your circumstances. Don’t try replicate your usual day. Look for small things to be thankful for. Find ways to see the faces and hear the voices of your colleagues, friends, family. Talk to your neighbours. Connect. Do things you enjoy. Try new things. Learn something new.

Thank you so much if you are out there helping people, our beautiful NHS and Care workers, retail workers, cleaners, delivery workers, lorry drivers – anyone doing what has to be done. We must make sure the world we return to remembers and rewards and protects.

Can we cope with Corona?

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

I am listening to the Chancellor’s response to the Corona Virus, Corvid 19. I won’t pass judgement as yet as it will take me a while to process and understand what is on offer. This outbreak is bringing the faults in our economy and society into sharp relief. It is also a useful exemplar to help us understand how anxiety works – how some of us live our lives in a state of fear.

I am self employed. I choose to be self employed, despite the lack of benefits I used to enjoy when working for someone else, such as sick pay, training, annual leave etc. It presents me with challenges. My work is irregular. I can have some months with a booking every week, and then I can go for months with nothing. January February was one such period. I have eaten through my savings, which had already been depleted by a similar hungry gap in summer. Then my washing machine died (of course, they always seem to know the worst time to go). So I need the next couple of months, I have plenty of bookings, and if it all goes ahead, I am ok. I can pay the rent and replenish my savings a little. But then comes this virus. The possibility of having to self isolate if I or my partner get ill. Or of a shut down making it impossible for me to travel to my bookings across the country. I am scared.

I am not alone in this fear. So many people are in dire straits after a lean winter. After floods, and poor weather, and low visitor numbers. We need a good Spring and Summer to make it through. But there are plenty of people whose incomes are not so erratic who also fear sickness like this. Who fear it every day – not just Corona Virus – any sickness. Because their employers do not pay decent sick pay (Statutory may be better than nothing but if it is not equal to a decent percentage of your usual wage it will not pay your bills and ease your concerns). Because they will lose bonuses based on 100% attendance. Because they risk discipline or losing their jobs if they have more than a few days sick a year. Because they are not paid enough in the first place to be able to save decent cushion to help them through crisis points like this.

Even robots break down. We are not robots. We get sick. Some of us more than others. Stress (such as the above concerns, not to mention workload, interpersonal issues, other financial concerns, family problem) affects our immune response and makes it more likely that we will get ill, that it will be harder to recover. Simply telling people not to get ill doesn’t stop it happening, it just makes it harder for people to do what they need to do to get well.

Presenteeism (that’s people going into work when they are not well enough) has twice as big an impact on the economy as absenteeism (taking time off sick). Corvid 19 is showing us one reason why – making us think about the spread of disease. This is a particularly nasty illness, but it spreads just like the flu, like colds, like stomach bugs. If we go into work when we are contagious, and are not wearing Haz-Mat suits, we infect those around us. We do not perform at our best. We make mistakes. Sometimes if our mood and demeanour is affected by our illness, this can also spread, discontent, poor morale, deteriorating relationships. It’s no good for anyone.

We need a different approach. We need to encourage wellness, but not punish sickness. No one wants to get sick. Good health and wellbeing programmes to help people have the best chance of staying well, but also good protections and compassion for those who become unwell. Occupational Health, Employee Assistance Programmes, even Private Medical Care to take the load off the NHS. Give flexible and home working options where possible – sometimes you might be well enough to work but still infectious, or well enough to do a few hours if you can nap between. Don’t make it something people need to beg for. Make it an easy choice. People assume working from home means skiving. But the evidence suggests the opposite, that you get increased discretionary effort, that people are less distracted, more focused, and are able to get straight on to things instead of having an hour or more commuting before they even think about work. Granted, they might be in pyjamas sometimes, but what you don’t know doesn’t hurt you.

Not everyone can work from home, I get it. But think creatively. How can you diversify your workforce’s jobs – give them variety – so there are options. Invest in technologies where you can which will make life easier. One of the biggest problems we have – across the board, is that everything has been pared down to the barest essentials. We need redundancy in our systems. We need more people, so we can cover each other if we get ill. We need spare beds in the health system. We need a few more pounds in the pay packet so we can put something aside to cope with rainy days.

We have got used to convenience. To paying peanuts. To complaining about the cost of food and services. The knock on effects are clear to see in this crisis. The break down of the supply chain, the fear that an already overstretched NHS will not be able to cope with the potential impact, and that people will die. The impact that isolation will have on businesses across the land who rely on people being able to go out and spend money.

It’s not an easy thing to fix. We need bold choices. We need people to have more money in their pockets, to be able to afford, and prepared to pay more for the things they need, so people can charge the prices they need to charge to reflect the cost of a product or service, factoring in decent pay rates, sickness pay, and extra capacity in the system to ensure we can escape an economy based on fear and scarcity and precarity. An economy which is making us ill, and which cannot cope.

How Refreshing!

Last Friday I ran my first MHFA Refresher course. Aimed at people who completed the MHFA England Mental Health First Aid (Two Day), or Mental Health Champion (One Day) Courses three or more years ago – this half day, four hour course allows people to revisit their understanding of mental health and the skills to provide first aid support to someone experiencing mental distress.

I love training at the best of times, the opportunity to reach people and have really important conversations normalising attitudes to mental health and asking for help if we need it – but honestly sometimes it’s a scary business. You never know, when you walk into a classroom, how you will be received. You don’t know who’s in the room, why they are there, what their attitudes to mental health, or other issues might be – are they in a good mood? Will they take an instant dislike to me because I look like their evil aunty Mary? You never can tell.

People do Mental Health training for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes because they have personal experience, because someone in their family is going through some form of mental health challenge and they want to understand how to help. Sometimes because they want to support staff or colleagues – but lets be honest, some people come because they have been “sent” by the boss. Or because it’s a day off from the daily grind. Sometimes even because they have ingrained preconceptions that they don’t really believe in all this mental health stuff and they want to come and tell us all to get over ourselves. It’s fun! It’s even better when I can see I have made a difference with people like that, and helped them to understand and better support their loved ones.

If you are looking at rolling out Mental Health First Aiders in your workplace though – it might be a good idea for you to put thought into who the best person to receive the training might be. Some employers do have an application process, and I’d be more than happy to help you think about what you need.

Friday was different though. We were only a small group – but the difference with a Refresher course is that everyone there is definitely interested, committed, engaged. They’ve already done the initial Mental Health First Aid or Champion training, and they have gone away and used it in some capacity – and also noticed they now need to update that qualification. So the feeling, and the questions and energy in the room was fantastic.

It’s great to hear about organisations who have Mental Health First Aiders in place, about how they support staff, and support the Mental Health First Aiders in turn. Mental Health First Aiders alone cannot solve all mental health related issues within a workplace but they can be fantastic canaries in the coal mine to flag up issues and patterns of concern so they can be addressed on a more systemic level.

The refresher course is a great new part of that systemic approach – add to that some ongoing CPD to boost understanding of different mental health issues, keeping tied in to the information and resources offered by MHFA England, which can be used to raise awareness in the wider organisation, all help to effect that culture change that we need to see in our society as a whole.

I have another open refresher course coming up in Rochdale soon [book on via Eventbrite here]– but if you have a group of Mental Health First Aiders in your organisation who need bringing up to date – I can come to you. Please email sarahlongmhfauk@gmail.com for a quote.

New Training Dates for 2020

I’m pleased to be able to announce a selection of courses in Yorkshire and Lancashire over the next six months –

Mental Health First Aid – Adult – 2 Day Course
Qualify to be a Mental Health First Aider
Wakefield @ The Art House – 24th / 25th February 2020
Rochdale @ Lock 50 Business Centre – 2nd / 3rd April 2020

MHFA Refresher *NEW FOR 2020*
Refresh your existing Mental Health First Aider qualification, skills and knowledge
Wakefield @ The Art House – 6th March 2020
Rochdale @ Lock 50 Business Centre – 29th May 2020

Mental Health Champion
One day course
Wakefield @ The Art House – 4th May 2020
Rochdale @ Lock 50 Business – 19th June 2020

Mental Health Aware
Half day course
Wakefield @ The Art House – 29th June 2020
Rochdale @ Lock 50 Business Centre – 10th July 2020

Book on with Eventbrite

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/sarah-long-14624952023

Early Bird Discounts, Concessions, Free Places, Sponsorship Opportunities Available. – Contact me for details

Mental Health First Aid (Hebden Bridge) *Summer Sale*

The sun may not be warming our hearts much this summer but this is a fantastic chance to become a Mental Health First Aider at an amazing discounted rate (60% off the RRP!)

Join me in Hebden Bridge on 25th / 26th July at the Quilt Cabin – see link below for full details.

Hebden Bridge is easily accessible by Road or Rail – on the West Yorkshire / Lancashire border within easy reach of Halifax, Huddersfield, Bradford, Leeds, Burnley, Rochdale and Manchester. It’s great place for a visit if you fancied extending for the weekend – ask me for pointers on places to stay, where to eat & drink or what there is to see and do.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/mental-health-first-aid-hebden-bridge-adult-2-day-summer-sale-tickets-63331609549

Mentally Healthy Workplace Package

Are you a medium sized business looking to roll out mental health training in your workplace? Or perhaps you could group together with other small businesses to benefit from this offer.

The Mentally Healthy Workplace package offers a range of different levels of training, from basic mental health awareness to fully qualified Mental Health First Aider to equip your employees with the understanding they need to support each other and look after their own wellbeing.

Including two half day awareness courses, one Mental Health Champion (one day) and one Mental Health First Aid (two day) course – you can train up to 72 people for the all inclusive cost of £3,750 – which comes in at less than £53 per person for this high quality accredited training.

Contact sarahlongmhfauk@gmail.com for bookings or more information

RIP Mike Oliver – pioneer of social model of disability

https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/world/2019/03/mike-oliver-pioneer-of-revolutionary-social-model-of-disability-dies-reports.html

When I was in the market to buy a house, many moons ago when that was a vague possibility before it all went awry – one of the properties we looked at caught my eye. It had a fantastic red kitchen. Those who know me know I love a bit of red.

However as I was looking around I realised that there was something off. This fantastic kitchen, with a great hob and belfast sink and other nice features was, well, a little low. The surfaces, the hob, the sink, all were at a level around the top of my thighs. Such that to chop things, or wash, I would have to lean forward considerably or squat down a bit. I suddenly understood when I met the lady of the house, who was about 4ft 6in tall. I’m not an extravagantly tall person, pretty much average height, and it had never really crossed my mind that things like tables, chairs, kitchen units, were usually designed with some “average” height, weight, width in mind. And that if you fall significantly outside that average then you might face discomfort or difficulty. This lady had, when getting her lovely kitchen designed, demanded it be designed with her in mind, so she could chop, wash and cook with ease without needing to stand on a step.

We don’t always realise how things are designed, unless we fall outside the average of the notional person they are designed for.

When I first heard about the Social Model of Disability, it reminded me of this kitchen. Michael Oliver, who passed away this week, introduced the idea that “disability” is not always about the physical or mental condition we may have. That while we may certainly face pain, difficulties, impairment, distress and discomfort as a result of whatever our personal circumstances – sometimes the disability we experience – the experience of not being able to do certain things, or go somewhere, or meet expectations – is not down to our situation, but instead down to elements of design or attitude, policy or usual practice.

Diagram illustrating the social model of disability - A small man is surrounded by arrows pointing away from him, each pointing to the word "barriers". This is within a circle titled "Society". To the right, a flow chart shows "Social Barriers", leading to three sets: "Environment, which includes Inaccessible buildings, language, services and communications" "Attitudes, includes prejudice, sterotypes and discrimination", and finally "Organisations, which includes inflexible procedures and practices"

If you are invited to an interview in an office on the seventh floor of a building, and you get there and there is no lift – if you are a wheelchair user for instance, or have mobility issues, or other health condition which makes climbing seven flights of stairs an impossibility, then you are rendered “unable” to attend that interview by many factors. The fact the architects did not put in a lift. The fact the people you are meeting did not consider that this might be a problem. The fact they did not think to ask and make alternative arrangements. The assumption that the people who will be invited will not have a problem. If the designers of a building had not deigned to put in any stairs either – then more of us would be “disabled” by this lack of consideration. Unless we are fantastic climbers, or super heroes who can fly. On the other hand, features such as ramps and lifts which make a place accessible to people with the kind of conditions I mentioned above – do not disadvantage those who might otherwise use the stairs. They are useful for all – people with prams or suitcases, heavy bags, a temporary injury, or even just when feeling a bit tired and unfit. While we would hope and expect people to give priority to those who need the lift / ramp or space on the bus due to disability – (and also to remember that disability is not always visible to the observer) – there is no ban on using it at other times if you don’t fall in that category.

As I said, we don’t necessarily think of our world and our days as “designed”. But at some point we have settled on certain averages because they suited someone. Lets think of our working days. That average 9-5, or whatever our shifts are. Originally, unfortunately many employers would expect staff to work whatever hours, in whatever conditions they could get away with. Poverty combined with the ready availability of alternate workers meant that people put up with horrendous conditions and barely having a life outside of work because there was no other choice to put food on the table or a roof overhead. Thankfully over time good people decided this was wrong and campaigned for change and brought in legislation to impose boundaries and expectations on employers as to what they can, can’t and must do in terms of their duty of care over staff.

Four miles up the road from me is Todmorden, birthplace of MP John Fielden, who is celebrated in various places throughout the town for his achievements which included the restriction of the working day in the 10 Hours Act, or Factories Act 1847 – and also campaigning for minimum wages / recompense, and against the employment of children. Since then, we have campaigned for and acquired more rights and protections, further “designing” our working lives.

One of the most powerful pieces of legislation which has helped to ensure we can challenge any unfairness or lack of consideration in our working lives is the Equality Act 2010. Covering many different aspect of equality – most notably in this regard this Act takes over from the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in placing a duty on employers to protect disabled staff from discrimination, – and also requiring them to make adjustments to try and overcome any barriers a person may face as a result of their disability. This latter is essentially acknowledging the social model – that sometimes there are things we can do which remove the barrier or difficulty and enable us to get on with our lives and jobs just like anyone else.

“Disability” under the Act is where a condition, physical or mental, has a significant and long term impact on our ability to carry out the activities of daily life. This – and what is classed as a “reasonable adjustment” – are deliberately vague – and only truly decided in court or tribunal. Should this person’s condition be considered a disability and therefore protected, is this adjustment reasonable – these are questions which some employers get wrapped up in. It is a puzzling approach, to be prepared to take the risk of prosecution for discrimination, in an attempt not to have to help someone do their job better. Because that is what a reasonable adjustment is there to do – overcome the barriers that are making it hard for someone to do their job as they would like to.

Mental ill health can certainly be a disability, and can impact our ability to do our jobs, or to get out of bed, or look after ourselves. However in many jobs the kind of adjustments which might help us are quite simple to implement, and cost nothing. Changes in attitudes, trust, support, flexibility. The more flexible we can be and willing to try alternative approaches, the more likely our workplaces will be suitable for a wide range of human beings rather than just some notional “average” person. I don’t like the phrase “reasonable adjustment”. I would rather instead that we acknowledge that we make provision for every employee in one way or another. We provide them with equipment, a desk, a computer, protective gear, training, a manager – whatever the requirements of the job. What I would like is for us to think about “appropriate provision” for each employee according to their needs, rather than adjustments from an average provision which is often ill thought out and doesn’t fit anyone very well. If our world is designed with us in mind, and we don’t face any unnecessary barriers, that is when we can all start to thrive, and achieve whatever we want to in life – including optimum performance and productivity which benefits our employers and society as a whole.