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adult education and mental health

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Happy at Work?

Two fifths of employers have reported that they are seeing an increase in cases of anxiety and depression from their staff. http://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/sep/16/rising-number-employees-reporting-mental-health-issues This raises the question as to what is happening with the other three fifths. It could be that some work places already have a respectful and accepting culture with regard to mental health issues and staff members experiencing difficulties have felt comfortable in making disclosures for some time. This would explain why these employers would not necessarily report a rise in cases. However, I fear the opposite is true and that staff are fearful of disclosing their mental health difficulties because of factors like stigma and discrimination. The fact that the numbers of cases are increasing should be seen as a positive sign as it would suggest that individuals are becoming more confident at speaking out about their conditions. The above-mentioned article raises issues about the mixed responses from employers and also makes an excellent point for the need to educate managers. These can be difficult issues and why should we expect managers to know how to handle these conversations? With one in four people in the UK expected to experience mental health difficulties each year, it is clear that mental health is likely to have a significant impact on work places.  

Employees experiencing anxiety and depression has become very relevant to our pilot here in the Barnsley area. We are incredibly lucky that we have a fantastic resource in the form of Northern College. An adult, inclusive residential social purpose college set in the extensive grounds of Wentworth Castle. The college has a long history of empowering and transforming the lives of individuals, families and communities. Learners often find that the experience of undertaking a short, intensive period of residential education is life changing. Whether it is the social purpose ethos, the beautiful house and gardens or the passionate teachers or perhaps a combination of all three, the college is well-regarded as a ‘sanctuary’ by many people wishing to immerse themselves in adult education and escape the hustle and bustle of their day to day lives. With this in mind, we decided to hold a weekend 'Wellbeing Retreat' from 25th to 27th September.

To promote the course I sent information to many local organisations. I received responses from the organisations asking for more information. I assumed at this point that they were thinking about their clients, but what actually happened was that staff members booked places for themselves. This led me to reflect on who my target learners are. I had always assumed that some employed people would attend but I think I had assumed that they would be in the minority. Perhaps this is because I have previously worked in organisations where the government’s funding has been strongly directed at unemployed individuals and supporting them back into work. Having considered the issue, I realised that there is a real benefit of supporting employees. An early intervention could prevent them from taking time off work which would benefit the individual and employer and could negate the need for the individual to access mental health services.

Interestingly, I received a call from a lady this week who is currently absent from work. Her manager had heard about the retreat and contacted her to suggest that she might like to intend. I was cautious about this as I realised there was the potential that employers might abuse the provision by putting pressure on their absent employees to attend. However, having spoken to the lady it became apparent that she has a well-meaning manager and the learner is genuinely very keen to attend the Retreat as she believes it will help her condition. Hopefully the Retreat will prove to be a positive experience for her and help her with her recovery and return to work.

This experience has demonstrated to me that there is a real need to provide courses for employed people. The Retreat fits well with a lot of employed people because it is being held over a weekend but I am also considering other options to accommodate this group of individuals in the future. Referring back to the original article in the Guardian, it might be interesting to canvass my employed learners to establish whether they have disclosed their difficulties to their employers and, if not, what fears they have about doing so.