New team of mental health champions helps food firm staff beat the blues

Harlech food service mental health ; Pictured (L/R) Katie Benton-Jones and Mags Evans. Picture Mandy Jones

One of Wales’s leading food companies is helping staff beat the blues by launching a ground-breaking mental health support service.

Harlech Foodservice, which has bases in Criccieth in Gwynedd and Chester, now has a team of three trained mental health champions ready to provide the right assistance and ask the right questions if a colleague is showing signs of feeling under pressure.

And one of those questions is ‘Are you having suicidal thoughts?’ as the Covid-19 pandemic puts people in Wales under unprecedented levels of stress, at home and in the workplace.

But Harlech was looking at upping their support for staff well before the pandemic hit.

Managing director David Cattrall said: “It started well before Covid and was highlighted by our Health and Safety Committee as a way of supporting people but then the virus hit and we ended up taking the course on-line.

“It was really good and it now gives us the tools to recognise and help if one of our colleagues is struggling with mental health issues, whether they’re personal or work related.

“The question ‘are you thinking about ending your life’ is one you might think you should avoid but actually it’s the question you need to be asking.

“Mental health is one of the biggest costs to the NHS in Wales and with Covid something like 15 per cent of 25 to 50-year-olds in Wales are experiencing some kind of mental health problem – from an employment point of view it could be the bad back of the future.

“It might not be anything to do with the workplace but if it’s one of our team and it’s affecting them then we get involved and help.

“It is a very difficult subject to broach but it’s about taking responsibility because it’s the only way to get someone at risk on the first step to recovery.

“If it needs more than an arm round the shoulders then you need to get the professionals involved.”

Among the members of the team are Katie Burton-Hughes and Mags Evans and Katie, accounts advisor team leader in the Sales Department, said: “I do have some experience working with people with mental health issues before coming to Harlech.

“I was already a first aider here dealing with the cuts and bruises and this is beneficial because it complements that.

“At the moment so many people are suffering with mental health whether they’ve been on furlough or having lost their jobs but also in the workplace we can spot the tell-tale signs that someone is under pressure.

“It means we can approach them and show that there are people who care and are prepared to listen and are here for them.

“Mental health is just as crucial as physical health and someone with mental health issues is just as likely to be off work as someone with a physical issue.

“But if we can recognise that and intervene before they get too far down the line then it can make a big difference and can mean they will recover more quickly.”

Harlech Foodservices employs around 200 staff and runs a fleet of vehicles to deliver more than 10,000 product lines to cafés, restaurants, pubs and public sector customers across North and Mid-Wales, Shropshire, the Midlands and the North West.

Mr Cattrall added: “We take our responsibility to our employees’ mental health very seriously and place a high emphasis on it.

“It is part of what makes a considerate employer and of course it makes good business sense as well.”

For more on Harlech Foodservice go to https://www.harlech.co.uk/