Scottish waste firm pioneers in-house mental health support

In what is seen as an industry first, a Scottish waste management company has started providing in-house support in a bid to tackle the UK’s growing mental health crisis.

Binn Group, which is based in Perthshire, has teamed up with mental health support charity SPEAK to provide easy access support and assistance to its workforce of around 140 staff to address the wide-ranging issues that can impact on workers’ psychological and general wellbeing.

The waste sector has one of the highest rates of injury and work-related illness out of any industry in the UK. Mental health issues contribute to a considerable proportion of this, with around 80 per cent of the average 6,000 workers a year self-reporting work-related illnesses between 2009/10 and 2016/17 citing musculoskeletal disorders or stress, depression or anxiety as reason for their absence – though the breakdown between musculoskeletal disorders and mental health issues is unclear.

Scottish waste firm pioneers in-house mental health support
Danny McAtear (left) and Rosie McKearnon (right).

Since introducing the partnership with SPEAK around seven months ago, Binn Group has already seen positive results, with more than 10 per cent of its staff coming forward to talk about mental health issues. There has also been a 4.5 per cent decrease in absenteeism and an increase in productivity and general wellbeing.

Commenting on the initiative, Binn Group HR Manager Danny McAtear said: “The waste management industry is regarded traditionally as a tough male dominated environment with workers hiding their stress and emotions rather than opening up and seeking help. Knowing there is someone they can speak to in private on site – who will be understanding, supportive and non-judgemental – can make a huge difference for employees."

SPEAK founder Rosie McKearnon, who battled for many years with her own mental health problems, added: "I know how lonely and overwhelmed you can become when things get on top of you. Mental health problems are not something you can shake off. Sadly, not everyone feels comfortable seeking help and even if they do, the waiting time to see a professional can be too long for those who are really struggling.

"The workers at Binn Group know I have been at rock bottom and they see that I came through it. This background and personal experience make it easier for people to approach and ask for help to deal with their issues.”

McAtear stressed that many people don't want to raise their issues at home and worry family and loved ones. Therefore, an outlet at work where they will be listened to and supported is seen as a huge advantage.

"Sometimes they just need to unload and get things in perspective and they know Rosie understands the issues," said McAtear. "Others require ongoing support and advanced care which we can access quickly for them."

"We are now seeing those who have come forward supporting others," said McKearnon. "You know that when the chat in the locker room changes from 'get a grip’ to 'do you think I could get to speak to her too' that we have breached the barrier. Things are changing – and changing for the better. I'm seeing improvements in the workforce every day."

Binn Group – which is part of the Zero Waste Scotland-funded plastics recycling partnership, the Beacon Project – will be conducting a survey in several months time to identify exactly the impact this collaboration with SPEAK has had. And other companies are already showing an interest in Binn Group’s in-house model, according to McAtear who states that: "HR experts across the country are now looking at the model pioneered by Binn Group and are contacting SPEAK with a view to rolling it out for their own employees.”

McKearnon added: "I think Binn Group is fairly typical in having a percentage of employees struggling with mental health issues – the problem is so widespread throughout Scotland.

"What is different is that Binn Group decided to do something about it. They value their workers, they recognise the problems of mental health and they've tackled it head on with positive outcomes for everyone involved.

"While the NHS struggles to meet the demand for mental health services, the example shown by Binn Group could point the way ahead for the business sector.”

You can find out more about the work of SPEAK on the charity’s website.

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