The head of one of the Tees region’s largest employers is supporting a mental health awareness week with the launch of a dedicated helpline app that allows staff to contact him directly in times of crisis.
PD Ports CEO Frans Calje took the unique step as part of his company’s ongoing and enlightened approach to mental health awareness.
Frans, whose firms employs 1,300 people across the Tees region and beyond, said: “Being surrounded by these dockers, these big blokes who get things done, when you actually get to know each and every one of them you discover that they have a heart of gold and sometimes can be quite fragile.”
Frans, who was in discussion as part of the latest PD Ports-sponsored Tees Business Leaders online Q&A, revealed that he was spurred into action following the tragic passing of well-known local businessman Russ Devereux and the discovery that middle-aged men are disproportionately more likely to take their own lives.
“We looked into the statistics and we found that a huge proportion of middle-aged men really struggle,” he said.
“We looked at our own workforce and thought ‘Bloody hell, this is the sort of person we employ,’ so we knew we needed to talk about it and to think about it, to alleviate the pressure before it snowballed into something bigger.”
Frans gets one or two messages a week on his hotline, which proves perhaps that mental health issues are more wide spread than many think.
With the shocking statistic that more men died from suicide in August than with Covid, Frans is thankful that PD Ports’ mental health awareness programme was already in place.
“I’m so glad we started the process when we did, because when Covid happened it absolutely underlined the issues around anxiety and depression,” he said.
“There’s a tendency to sweep mental health issues under the carpet but we had consciously taken the decision to move away from just being focused on normal health and safety to reinforce the message of talking, to reaching out to people, so we’d already began to lift the lid.”
Fellow Tees Business Leaders guest Maxine Alton, adult clinical lead at charity, the Russ Devereux Headlight Project, said: “This year has been a rollercoaster with its challenges and complications.
“The pandemic has evoked in all of us a general feeling of anxiety, so what PD Ports are doing is amazing.
“Their passion towards addressing these issues and helping employees speak openly about their mental health is vitally important and something that absolutely could be mirrored across many different organisations.”
Someone who has always been open about his own struggles with anxiety is Active Chartered Financial Planners MD Karl Pemberton.
“When you’re in that cloud, that grip of anxiety, it’s hard to snap out of it,” he admitted.
“I knew I was really struggling when I didn’t want to go out and see people. I wasn’t the husband or the father that I wanted to be. I just wanted to go home, shut the curtains, have a bottle of wine and forget the world.”
Karl eventually opened up to a friend and began to see a counsellor which totally changed his outlook on life, but not everyone takes that step.
At PD Ports there is a team of mental health first aiders, members of the workforce who have put themselves forward to help and who are always available to sit and have a cup of tea with anyone who may be struggling.
“Anxiety and depression have an effect not only on the person suffering but on the lives of those around them says,” said Frans.
“If we don’t do anything, we are not going to make a difference. It’s so important that we talk about these issues and make them approachable.”