12 months ago to the day I wrote a deeply personal article in which I opened up about my own struggles with anxiety. A year on and now bearing a few battle scars from the war with the unknown enemy which we call Covid - 19 I wanted to reshape that very same article to show that even as the world changes, our individual struggles stay the same but there can be positivity at the end of every dark tunnel.
My name is Kevin Robinson, I’m the Chief Operating Officer of Safer Highways and I suffer with anxiety.
Anxiety is a strange thing; it is like the silent assassin that creeps up on you when you least expect it – suddenly reducing you to a shaking wreck for no logical reason.
For example, this week, me and one of my team were visiting Health and Safety North in Manchester – a journey I have done many times.
I got on the train as normal, had some food – as we do – and settled down to do some emails and reply to calls.
Then suddenly we hit Stockport and all of a sudden, I felt my chest tightening and I began to shake.
H&S North was just an event and we only had one meeting in the day with NEBOSH so nothing major or out of the ordinary but yet for some bizarre and unknown reason I suddenly felt that I wasn’t in control of my body and was existing in an ethereal universe.
Looking back there was nothing to cause this. After all, I engage with senior leaders on a daily basis and this was just another event, right?
Every time I step outside of my front door, even when we take the children on holiday, I find myself absolutely consumed by a real sense of nervousness. I feel like I am six inches from a heart this is what the experts call anxiety.
Am I normal or abnormal?
Twenty years ago, when mental health was something that no one talked about, I suffered a complete breakdown.
People around me helped and I thought I was ok; but really it was a sticking plaster over the Grand Canyon.
Then six years ago, I was lucky enough to be blessed with my first son.
It wasn’t an easy pregnancy and we came close to losing him twice.
At the time, there was little understanding from those around me about how difficult our pregnancy was – I don’t think if I asked anyone at that time to spell mental health they could have.
Six years on from that and having gone through hell (metaphorically) of having a second child, I feel I am in a different place.
So how do we rationalise this?
In short, we don’t.
We all have mental health in the same way that we have physical health.
If an employee came to you with a sprained wrist you would know how to treat it, do the necessary and put it in the accident book. Job done.
But what if you had somebody like me. Somebody who couldn’t actually face going to work – not because they were being lazy but because, actually, their life was falling apart in front of them but they came to you and told you that. what would you do?
You couldn’t write this into the accident book – it’s not RIDDOR reportable so does it really matter?
Well yes it does and equally as much as a burn or a cut.
So how do we deal with the issue?
Until now this has been personal. I have bared my soul in a way I never would have done before, but in truth this isn’t about me, or my anxiety, or my personal journey.
This is about what we as an industry can genuinely do to help our people.
In June, Safer Highways launched ourThriving at Work survey to enable organisations to honestly benchmark themselves against the Stevenson-Farmer report.
We know the issues around mental health won’t be fixed today (World Mental Health Day), but all we ask as an industry is that you are honest in appraising where you are.
There is no right or wrong.
This won’t win you a contract but for your people it’s the right thing to do and we hope you appreciate that and participate.
I have told you my story for world mental health day – and believe me that wasn’t easy. Now it’s your turn to listen to your people’s stories. Don’t pay lip service. Genuinely take that 5 minutes to listen.