Interviews

Mental health during covid

by Mark Rowe

We need to be more open, and that needs to start at the top, with leaders, the latest OSPAs thought leadership webinar heard this afternoon. The topic chaired by Prof Martin Gill of Perpetuity Research was the mental health of front-line security officers.

That was said by one of the UK security directors on Prof Martin Gill’s latest panel, Chris Middleton, of the services contractor ABM UK. Also on the panel, from the UK was Barry Dawson, Managing Director of Wilson James; and Nicholas Reed, an advocate for inclusivity and mental health awareness; and from India, Harmeet Anand, an executive coach.

The final question of the session was about when people – and not just those working in security – return to the workplace, perhaps a year after leaving it physically for the first lockdown. Is the security sector prepared for that? Barry Dawson admitted: “In a nutshell, no, I don’t think the industry is ready and I don’t think many sectors are ready for it, either.”

Chris Middleton agreed, and raised how travelling into London again will raise anxiety. The panel agreed that mental well-being is not a new subject; and indeed it won’t end with the pandemic; Chris Middleton suggested as others have that mental ill-health, as a result of covid isolation and financial and other pressures, could become another pandemic, if not treated.

Nicholas Reed gave the point of view of front-line security; he like many others entered the industry ‘entirely by chance’, and working across sectors found it a rewarding career. Universally, he said, security is the backbone of stability in an organisation; often, security staff are unable to show any vulnerability. Despite being under-valued, security staff are expected to put themselves second to the security and safety of the organisation. They can be witness to harrowing events, and yet are often left minimally supported. After events, it may even be that non-security staff get assistance and de-briefing, but not Security; they are expected to return to ‘business as normal’, straight away. Security has an embedded culture – masculine, not least because only one in ten of SIA-badged officers are women – of leaving problems at the door, which has to be overcome.

The panel ranged over ways to give ‘mental first aid’, whether through training, mindfulness apps and ‘signposting’ workers to counselling or other services, because early intervention can lead to better outcomes. While much good can be done and is done, the webinar did face up to challenges; do clients want to pay for employee well-being; leaders may say they want well-being in the workplace, but does that filter through to the middle management and the front line; and even if it does, do workers feel able to speak up and admit to depression, for fear of losing their job.

Should the onus be on the front-line to cope and to spot that others are not coping? And while front-line staff may face verbal and physical abuse, no job title is immune to mental stresses.

More in the March 2021 print issue of Professional Security magazine.

The next OSPAs webinar is on Thursday afternoon, when an all-UK panel discusses Global Security Operations Centres (GSOCs). You can sign up to watch for free, and listen to past webinars going back to the first lockdown in spring 2020, at https://theospas.com/thought-leadership-webinars/.

Perpetuity’s research topic for 2021 under the umbrella of the Security Research Initiative is the effect of the pandemic on private security; you can contribute by carrying out a survey on this link.

Background

The mental health charity Mind recently reported findings that while men generally feel more able to seek help and open up about their mental health than a decade ago, those with current worries are still relying on coping mechanisms such as drinking alcohol alone.

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