Shaftesbury residents have been encouraged to start conversations about their mental wellbeing to remove any sense of stigma. And Adrian Welch, of union USDAW, says shoppers should know how to signal that they might need extra support.
Visitors to Shaftesbury’s Tesco were offered leaflets and information about mental health and wellbeing on Monday. If you weren’t in store, you’ve missed the packets containing a free teabag and biscuit. That giveaway aimed to prompt a cuppa and a chat. That was the main message that Adrian wanted to communicate.
“The name of the campaign is ‘It’s good to talk’,” explained Adrian. “I can give you as much literature as you want. I can give you all of the freebies but until you recognise that a problem shared is a problem halved, all of that is redundant. It might not necessarily be an expert (you talk with) at first. It might not be at that level, but just being able to talk to somebody will make that easier.”
Adrian put on the display in his role as a shopworkers’ union official. He wanted customers and colleagues to read the literature and recognise that nobody knows when they might face a mental health crisis. “It’s not a case of ‘Is there a problem now’ or ‘Is there a problem tomorrow’? I might not be suffering today or tomorrow but knowing there are leaflets, support and that people are happy to talk about it is going to have a lasting impact. It will slowly eradicate that it’s not okay and that you are weird.”
Adrian says that the union wants people to take mental health just as seriously as physical health. “They are suffering the same way that somebody might be if they broke their leg,” he said. “People see it as a stigma and not as everyday as a cold. It’s a stigma that we don’t talk about. Well, we want to talk about it.”
Around 150 people work at Shaftesbury’s Tesco store and Adrian says that around 65% of employees are members of his union. He has worked closely with his colleagues as a shop steward and the union’s health and safety representative. Through that work he has supported co-workers with mental health challenges.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of cases and if you speak to people at work, they will say how good it was to know that somebody else was listening,” said Adrian. “When it comes to a problem in your workplace you have got the employee and the employer and that’s it. It becomes a rocky relationship. Who on earth do you talk to? Sometimes your mental health can be amplified by a workplace. Who the hell are you going to go to?”
Adrian says that’s where unions can assist. Yesterday he shared the message with six formers at Shaftesbury School. “A lot of pupils will find a Saturday job while they are going through sixth form college. The school will have a lot of members coming into my workplace because they are taking those jobs on,” he said.
Adrian believes that it is particularly important for young people to discuss their mental health, so they remain comfortable talking about it throughout their careers and in their private lives. “It’s all about education. Some things I speak about, people haven’t spoken about for years. You see statistics of male suicide and you ask, ‘Why has that got to that stage?’ It’s quite clear. It’s because people aren’t talking about it.”
If you face mental health challenges, Adrian encourages you to take up the sunflower badge scheme. You can wear a logo on a ribbon around your neck, known as a lanyard, which will help shop floor staff understand that you might require special consideration. “You can see, if somebody is on crutches, that they are disabled but often hidden disabilities are not that obvious. If I said that I suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, could you tell that from looking at me? Of course you can’t,” said Adrian. “The whole point of these lanyards is to make it easier for colleagues in the retail sector to understand what they can and can’t do to support somebody. It’s not a case of us moving everything out of the way for you because you’re wearing that lanyard but it means you might need an extra bit of help.”
Adrian explained how this might work in practice. If I had to come up to (a member of staff) every time that I needed help using the self-service checkout, I am going to get tired of having to explain myself. It’s universal recognition that you are wearing the lanyard. The company recognise that and will give you additional support if you need it.”
Many national retailers, including Sainsbury and Argos, support this scheme. You can get one from Shaftesbury’s Tesco store. “The lanyard is available from our customer service desk for anybody who has a disability that isn’t obvious,” said Adrian.
If you missed Monday’s display in Tesco’s foyer, you can access mental wellbeing resources at the USDAW website. The website contains digital versions of the leaflets Adrian and colleague Andrew Coley were distributing.