23 May, 2022

Being mindful of mental health

24 August, 2020

Since as far back as January we have had to face up to a particularly vexing nemesis – COVID-19 – something that has affected us both professionally and socially.

Throughout the year, Hydraulics & Pneumatics has been covering the trials and tribulations of the pandemic, as well as providing a platform for some more positive stories showing, for example, how some companies in our industry are fighting aversity by re-configuring machinery to supply much-needed PPE equipment to frontline workers. Nevertheless, it cannot be ignored that COVID-19 is having a deleterious effect not just on many people’s way of working in a practical sense, but also on their mental wellbeing.

What with growing concerns over job insecurity, isolation and even having to deal with the loss of a loved one, we have seen a surge in mental health issues, often among people who have never suffered or experienced such an issue before. And, of course, the all-important world of engineering hasn’t been immune to this situation.

Just like workers in other fields, stress, depression and anxiety have risen, especially with engineers continuing to work on essential manufacturing lines. With the recent news that over a fifth of engineers have taken time off due to mental health, Alan Lusty, the CEO and founder of multidisciplinary engineering business adi Group, argues that, while the pandemic rightly shines a spotlight on concerns surrounding physical health and the need to keep the workforce and customers safe, the engineering sector should step up its game in addressing mental health. “UK engineering is exemplary, we’re the problem-solvers, we’re the people that make things work,” says Lusty. “Our predecessors drove the Industrial Revolution and were pivotal role in building this great nation into a torchbearer so many others would follow. And, I have to say that, although I’ve not been surprised in the slightest, the things I’ve seen in recent weeks have thrown into sharp relief how important engineers are in keeping society ticking over in some semblance of normality. But we are not without fault – myself and adi Group included.”

Lusty observes that, on the positive side, much of the stigma attached to mental health has been removed over the past few years through greater acceptance. “Engineering has without doubt moved with society and – in varying degrees – taken steps to accommodate mental health issues,” he remarks. However, he believes we have to go further and rise to the challenge of moving from cure to prevention. In engineering, Lusty maintains there are many misperceptions we need to battle against; for example, bridging the glaring skills gap facing this country. “It’s no longer about dirty work environments or greasy overalls and we offer high skill, high pay jobs that can be incredibly rewarding,” he stresses. “But the traditional sense that we are male dominated remains largely true. While I would argue that needs to change – and I do elsewhere – it’s still the case that emotions can be bottled up in engineering and that people can pay a price.”

So, while the pandemic poses many physical challenges within industrial and mobile sectors, particularly concerning how to keep the workforce safe while continuing to provide valuable equipment and services to customers, mental challenges must also be recognised and addressed as and when they become manifest. The recently held Men’s Health Week provided a good platform to raise these issues (although, of course, this is an issue that affects all genders). One thing’s for sure, it’s time to be more mindful of mental health in our industry.

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