Chair: Martin Gill

Panellists:
Chris Middleton Dip ML – ABM UK, IFPO UK and ADLC Mental Health Advocate (UK)
Harmeet Anand PCC – Executive Ontological Coach (India)
Barry Dawson – Managing Director at Wilson James (UK)
Nicholas Reed – Protective Services Professional and advocate for inclusivity and mental health awareness (UK)

Key points

Chris Middelton notes that Covid-19 has brought mental health issues to the frontline, so much so Chris refers to the issue as a pandemic in itself. As a solutions-based sector security needs to be good at responding to mental health issues affecting workers. A range of frontline tools have been developed and the better companies have focussed on employee assistance with a dedicated emphasis on mental health issues. It has required a shift in the security sector though, the old ‘macho’ image of leave your problem at the door, a stiff upper lip in the face of danger, remain an embedded part of the culture, the complete opposite of what is needed in a friendly mental health response. Things are changing, leaders are adapting, and the best are setting a good example. Some clients are on board but many still see security as a grudge purchase and they can be less inclined to want to help invest in the response.

Nicholas Reed notes that despite being generally undervalued, security workers have shown in this pandemic a commitment to putting others first. Despite a lack of support, often from their own companies, frontline workers have been present in difficult times, sometimes being part of harrowing events, and facing abuse and conflict as part of daily duties. These have brought mental health to the forefront. Responses have varied, on the positive side this is reflective of the diverse nature of security that there is no one size that fits all, on the other hand some companies have not taken the issues seriously. There is a culture change in evidence, but these things are never quick. You will hear an interesting response from Nicolas when addressing the value of law and regulation in bringing about change; that may not be so easy. He calls on leaders to set the example and then to embed solutions meaningfully across organisations.

Barry Dawson outlines some innovative practices his company has adopted to deal with mental health and invites the audience to ‘steal with pride’. Security officers are on the frontline when they work, they often use public transport to travel to and from work, and they often go home to an empty house. While mental health issues have always been a consideration the stresses brought about by Covid-19 have put them centre stage – with many staff in some companies worried about losing their job – and they are not likely to go away. His company have invested heavily in the response, and good clients have helped share in the investment although not all clients will be on board. Stronger regulation on this issue will help, but the security sector needs to take responsibility too, not least as people drift back into work bringing with them their own anxieties which those on the frontline will need to understand. Barry warns, no one is immune from this, it is everybody’s concern.

Harmeet Anand is an expert in well-being, and she makes the point that Covid-19 has focussed attention on mental health, in fact has added impetus to it. This is true of the security sector too not least because mental health will also be an issue in high stress environments. However, it requires senior leadership to set the example and instil the principles meaningfully, and getting junior leaders on board. Harmeet explains how other industries have taken on the challenge and made progress so there is the opportunity to look across. It is important she stresses, to get ready for people coming back to work, that will require new processes and approaches and they can be thought about now. This engaging webinar generated a good discussion with the audience raising many points about the importance of mental health and of working together meaningfully to generate a sector wide response. They posed a range of  different ideas, including for example, the need to respond to ‘covid fatigue’; the value of ‘happy hours with staff’; ‘show and tell sessions’; and rotating responsibilities when things are stressful. This is an active area and one that rightly deserves our attention, as Barry Dawson says, it is everybody’s concern.

Martin Gill
2nd February 2021