Staff from across Network Rail came together for the first time to participate in a programme introduced to improve mental health and wellbeing of all colleagues.

With one in four people in the UK experiencing a mental health condition, Network Rail is keen to break down the stigma associated with mental health and employees have the support they need when experiencing mental health issues.

During the event at Ipswich football club on 25 June – which was also attended by Mind, a charity championing mental health issues, and the British Safety Council – staff were given the chance to reflect on their involvement over the past year, and to suggest ways of making improvements to the support that is offered.

Staff can volunteer to be mental health and wellbeing champions after completing a one-day training course. After the training, they are equipped with the tools to recognise the signs if a colleague has a mental health issue and to work on the positive steps they can take to help, including listening to concerns and signposting them to information and support.

Since the launch of the programme last year, 80 staff have become mental health and wellbeing champions and wear distinctive blue lanyards, so they can be easily recognised.

Neil Cockerton, Network Rail Anglia’s area plant manager who organised the event, said: “The country faces huge mental health challenges at work, as it affects how we think, feel, and act and it also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices.

“We recognise that staff often need support but are not always sure who or where to turn to for help. The champions play a key role to guide staff through the maze of support that is available or to offer a sympathetic ear.

“The event is an opportunity to celebrate what we’ve done so far, but also to talk about how we can make improvements so that staff continue to be supported.”

A spokesperson from Suffolk Mind said: “At Suffolk Mind we want to make workplaces as good as they possibly can be for mental health. That means all of us recognising that stress is nature's way of telling us that a key emotional need is not being met.

” Workplaces are environments that can enable us to meet needs for achievement, being stretched and challenged. Or they can be a barrier, by not giving people time away from distractions to reflect and lay down learning, or withholding concrete feedback that makes us feel valued.

“Today with the mental health champions of Network Rail, we hopefully took a big step forward in creating a culture that's good for both wellbeing and performance. “

Christine Morton, workforce health, safety and environment advisor at Network Rail, said: “Today has been extremely informative. There was a great talk by Mind, including some interesting facts about mental health which I’ll be sharing with the team.

“There was also some inspirational speakers who have experienced various mental health issues and they’ve been brave in sharing those stories with us.”

Andrew Waling, level crossing manager at Network Rail, said: “I think large organisations need to be more aware of people’s mental health, it needs addressing and it’s not something that should be swept under the carpet.

“Network Rail’s approach of going out into the workforce is working, and the wellbeing champions are there for anybody who has any issues and they can approach somebody who they know and can trust.”

Future work includes training for line managers, establishing support groups and providing mental health toolkits to ensure Network Rail has the necessary skills and support to identify and improve mental health and wellbeing for all its employees.