Thriving Minds - Opening by Eileen taylor

WELLBEING | Thriving Minds at the Civic Hall

Thriving Minds | This year’s opener was from Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Eileen Taylor

Thrive Law’s annual THRIVING MINDS conference invites employers to embrace mental health within the workplace. ROBERT KILNER takes a day off work to find out more.

In the first Industrial Revolution, Leeds had workplace health and wellbeing pioneers like Richard Oastler and James Marshall. Their innovations in the early 1800’s meant not being used as a punchbag by your boss, or having the working day reduced to 12 hours, if you were aged between nine and eighteen.

We’ve come a long way since then. Some 21st century employers are providing flexible work and reasonable adjustments for employees needs. Even those who are unresponsive have to provide Stress Risk Assessments and Health & Safety checks. The organisers of the Thriving Minds conference want to make Mental Health Risk Assessments mandatory in the workplace.

A Step in the Right Direction

Here we are in the very grand Lord Mayor’s room at the Civic Hall for the Thriving Minds Annual Conference 2019. If you’re on Twitter you might have come across the legal firm Thrive Law extolling the virtues of Mental Health First Aiders at work. It’s a step in the right direction. We spend the majority of our waking lives at work: it’s one of the things most of us have in common.

Lord Mayor, Councillor Eileen Taylor, whose work for the NHS focused on learning disabilities and mental health, opens the conference by reminding us, “Mental health is someone that just falls, and needs lifting up.”

Leeds City Council chief executive, Tom Riordan is the council’s mental health champion. He talks candidly about his childhood, and the effects, good – and not so good – mental health can have on a family.

The Civic Hall was built in the economic depression of the 1930’s, he says. The funds coming from the Unemployment Grant Committee which was inspired by the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes to increase employment. Ninety percent of the building workforce was on the unemployment register.

Other speakers under the banner of ‘Lived Experience’ include Inspirational Speaker Richard McCann, whose tales of ‘bounce-back-a-bility’ in the face of unimaginable challenges are both horrifying and funny.

Mental Health & Suicide Prevention

There are workshops on diversity, neuro-diversity, sleep, nutrition and neuro-plasticity, and an expert panel, including Shadow Minister for Mental Health and Social Care, Paula Sheriff, and psychiatrist Dr Sile McDaid give insights into the current state of mental health, and healthcare in general under the current government. Some focus was given to grassroots projects like Andy’s Man Club which aims to support and draw attention to men’s mental health and prevent male suicide.

Have we reached the pinnacle of employee rights at work? The Employer Panel, featuring HR professionals, was unanimous in their desire to see more support for women and families going through the menopause, which suggests there’s still room for improvement.

And with sick days due to mental health increasing, and the cost of employment tribunals outweighing the cost of preventative measures that room might be quite large.

Back in the 1930’s the economist Keynes, as well as promoting infrastructure spending in times of recession, also thought that by now we’d be working a lot less. In his essay, ‘Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren’ he suggested our generation would be doing a 15 hour week due to technological advances.

Gong in 60 Seconds

That’s yet to happen for most of us. What he didn’t predict was workplace relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga and gong baths [which harness the resonant and meditative power of gongs and singing bowls] to help people cope with increased workloads, job insecurity and bad management. I know which one I’d rather choose.

Robert Kilner is a Leeds office worker cum lunchtime flâneur. He is the resident Culture Vulture Daredevil and author of Neil’s favourite piece on the site. You can read that here.