Lib Dem Sutton the first UK borough to run mental health awareness scheme for pubs and clubs

Eighteen pubs and clubs around Sutton have signed up to an innovative project to promote mental health awareness among their staff.

The pilot scheme, which is the first of its kind in the UK, is part of Liberal Democrat Sutton Council’s Our Place – Embracing Mental Health Project, which has been funded by Jobcentre Plus through the Department for Work and Pensions for the last two years.   The project was set up in partnership with the council’s economic development arm Opportunity Sutton.

Pub and club staff have been trained by the Sutton Mental Health Foundation charity to assess risk, and understand how to talk to someone in distress due to a mental health problem in a calm and reassuring manner. 

They can then be signposted to get help.  Should the person not be responsive or co-operative, then staff must secure the environment and call the emergency services while making sure the person is safe and not a danger to themselves or others.

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Among those to have undertaken the mental health awareness training is Craig Pretorius, General Manager of The Moon on the Hill Pub in Sutton and Chair of PubWatch, the local group of licensees of Sutton’s pubs, bars and clubs. During one busy Friday evening earlier this year he was able to put his training into practice and help a middle-aged man who told him he was suicidal and planned to end his life later that night.

Mr Pretorius said: “The man told me he was going home to kill himself. He was crying and clearly needed help and for someone to be there for him. He felt he had reached the end, so I phoned for paramedics to come to the pub. Over the phone I handled the situation and knew what to say, that this was a higher urgency. The paramedics arrived, the man was taken care of and now he’s much better.

“He’s very grateful that we could do something to help him. That was an incredible situation because the man was in a very dark place. I’m just glad that I did my training because it helped me to identify that.”

Around a quarter of the population in Britain expected to experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year with depression affecting one in five older people. The Our Place – Embracing Mental Health Project has a twofold aim: to raise mental health with local businesses and residents and encourage greater understanding of mental health issues, and to get more people with mental health conditions, learning disabilities and other complex needs into paid employment in the borough.

Patricia Park, Employer Engagement Officer for Sutton Council’s Our Place Mental Health Project, said:  “We launched the pilot awareness project with PubWatch because its representatives wanted their staff to do some mental health training. Given the range of customers visiting these establishments day and night, it is important that the staff are not only aware of how to support someone in crisis, but also for them to be able to ensure their own wellbeing, especially considering the long shifts and difficult hours they work.

“The mental health awareness course delivered by the Sutton Mental Health Foundation has been well designed and can be tailored to suit the need of the group involved.”

Cecile Bowie, Community Development Worker at Sutton Mental Health Foundation, who led the training course, said:  “We saw this as an opportunity to raise awareness of mental health issues to a profession we do not deliver training to normally. This is important because pub staff encounter a very varied range of groups and individuals in their day-to-day work, and, inevitably, some of these people are likely to experience emotional distress at some point in their life.

She said that customers losing their inhibitions through alcohol might well present symptoms that are likely to make them more vulnerable. With pub staff having acquired basic practical and theoretical mental health knowledge it was hoped they would be in a position to keep themselves and their patrons safe whenever they identified emotional distress.

She added:  “We also hope that this training helps to destigmatise mental health-related issues and enables pub staff to be more inclined to interact with clients and colleagues going through distress.”

Cllr Simon Wales, Sutton Council’s mental health champion and sponsor of the Our Place – Embracing Mental Health Project, said: “Our council wants to support its residents, which is why we have introduced this pilot project with borough pubs and clubs to promote mental health awareness among their staff. It’s important that bar staff know what to do and what not to do when faced with a potentially difficult situation of a customer in distress.

“Since the pilot scheme was rolled out in Sutton earlier this year the pubs and clubs taking part have reported that their staff have a greater understanding of how to treat patrons with mental health issues with dignity and respect. They know how to ensure the person is safe and not representing a danger to themselves or others, and when to contact the police or emergency services.

“This is a successful and ground-breaking project that we would like to see rolled out in other boroughs across the country.”

Funding for the training has been provided by the business improvement district organisation Successful Sutton, which has recognised the importance of such training within the borough.

Local partners of Sutton Council’s Our Place – Embracing Mental Health Project include NHS Sutton CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group), South-West London and St George’s NHS Mental Health Trust, Orchard Hill College, Sutton Job Centre Plus, Imagine Mental Health (Employment Support Provider), Royal Mencap, the Sutton Mental Health Foundation and Sutton Uplift.

The Sutton Mental Health Foundation will be delivering Mental Health First Aid training to the PubWatch group later this summer.  Businesses interested in mental health awareness training or the work of the Our Place – Embracing Mental Health Project should contact Patricia Park directly on 020 8770 6515 or email patricia.park@sutton.gov.uk.   The Sutton Mental Health Foundation website is at www.smhf.org.uk and it can be contacted on 020 8770 0172, emailadmin@smhf.org.uk.

Caption:  Cecile Bowie, Community Development Worker at Sutton Mental Health Foundation, trains staff from borough pubs and clubs on mental health awareness issues.

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