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Triumph over Adversity: Gav's Journey to Mental Wellbeing in the Welding Industry


A welder in a large warehouse

By Ian Proctor, Digital Edge


Introduction:

In the demanding field of welding, where workers spend long hours under a welding mask, mental health challenges often remain overlooked. However, the story of Gav, an employee at SCH, shines a light on the critical importance of understanding and addressing mental well-being in this profession. Through an exclusive interview, we delved deep into Gav's personal struggles, his path to recovery, and the invaluable lessons he imparts to others in the welding sector.


Chapter 1: The Breaking Point

Three years ago, Gav's life took a challenging turn as personal hardships began to unravel his overall well-being. Strained relationships, crumbling friendships, and a deteriorating mental state left Gav feeling isolated and overwhelmed. As a welder, he sought solace in his work, but the unique experience of spending eight hours a day under a welding mask intensified his struggles. Gav vividly described the mask as a metaphorical "bin on your head," where negative thoughts reverberated and feelings of isolation grew, even in the presence of colleagues.


Studies have indicated that sensory deprivation can contribute to distorted thinking patterns (Lebedev et al., 2020) Research has shown that individuals facing challenging life circumstances, such as relationship struggles and social isolation, are more susceptible to mental health issues (Smith et al., 2018)


Chapter 2: Recognising the Signs

Gav's colleagues at SCH noticed the gradual transformation in his demeanour and responded with genuine concern. Among them was his line manager, Sam, who sensed that something was amiss and consistently reached out to Gav. Despite Gav's initial reluctance to open up, the support and care he received from his colleagues laid the foundation for a potential breakthrough.


Studies have highlighted the importance of social support in mitigating mental health struggles, showing that individuals who receive support from their colleagues are more likely to seek help and experience positive outcomes (Moll et al., 2019)


Chapter 3: A Heated Discussion

On a fateful day, a heated discussion unfolded on the shop floor between Gav and Gary Finley, the Managing Director of SCH. While the specifics of the confrontation may remain secondary, the incident became a significant turning point in Gav's journey. The exchange highlighted the depth of Gav's struggles, and it marked the beginning of SCH's steadfast commitment to supporting Gav and prioritising employee well-being.


Research suggests that conflicts or confrontations can serve as catalysts for change, prompting individuals to seek help and make positive changes in their lives (Dewa et al., 2019)


A welder in a large warehouse

Chapter 4: Embracing Change

With the recognition of the urgent need for help, SCH's HR team promptly arranged a meeting with a mental health nurse. During this pivotal intervention, Gav received a diagnosis of clinical depression. This diagnosis served as a wake-up call, forcing Gav to confront the extent of his challenges and inspiring him to embark on a journey toward mental well-being.


The importance of early intervention and professional support in addressing mental health challenges (Reavley et al., 2014)


Chapter 5: A Personal Commitment

Armed with newfound determination, Gav took ownership of his life. He prioritised self-care and incorporated activities such as regular walks and reigniting his passion for golf. These outlets not only improved his physical health but also served as therapeutic means to silence the negative thoughts that plagued him during his welding shifts. Gav reminisces his arrival at home following a shift. Instead of doing nothing and wallowing, he would actively seek something to do. Socialise, play golf or go out for walks. He was committed and that is vital when you are at your lowest points in life.


Studies have shown that individuals who actively engage in self-care activities, such as exercise and hobbies, experience improvements in mental health and overall well-being (Mammen et al., 2018)


Chapter 6: A Supportive Work Environment

Within the walls of SCH, Gav discovered support from many people within SCH. The welding community at the company are close-knit, creating an environment of empathy, understanding, and genuine care for one another. Gav emphasises the pivotal role this supportive atmosphere played in his recovery.


Research has indicated that positive workplace relationships and a sense of belonging contribute to better mental health outcomes (Bakker et al., 2017)


Chapter 7: The Power of Listening and Understanding

Gav expressed deep gratitude to SCH, singling out Lynsey, a dedicated member of the HR department. Lynsey's attentive listening, pleasant demeanour, and swift actions in addressing Gav's needs proved invaluable in his recovery. Her dedication and compassion exemplify the essential role that HR professionals can play in supporting employees' mental health. Gav says that ‘Lynsey has a good soul’ which I believe, reverberates across the SCH site as a whole.


Studies have emphasised the importance of active listening and empathy in promoting mental health support within the workplace (Aas et al., 2019)


Chapter 8: Advocacy and Education

Having emerged from his personal struggle, Gav now advocates for mental health awareness in the welding industry. He believes it is crucial to break the stigma surrounding mental health, encouraging open conversations, and providing resources for fellow welders facing similar challenges. Gav's story serves as an educational platform, shedding light on the unique mental health burdens faced by those working under welding masks.


I asked Gav how he feels now and he responded first by physically lifting the invisible weight from his shoulders and stating “I feel good now”. It was as if he lifted that weight and thrown it away. A reminder for me personally of my struggles many years ago. It is also important to remember that the good fight is never over and we ought to continue to build great relationships around us and consolidate those relationships close to us as we move forward in life.


Studies have shown that destigmatising mental health, promoting open conversations, and providing resources can lead to a positive shift in workplace culture and support (Rüsch et al., 2018)


Conclusion: A Story of Hope and Education

Gav's journey serves as a light in the darkness for those currently going through something similar and a source of education for the welding industry. His experience sheds light on the unique challenges faced by welders who spend hours under welding masks, and the impact it can have on mental wellbeing. By sharing his story, I hope Gav’s story and SCH’s unwavering support inspire others to prioritise mental health, seek support, and create a culture of understanding and compassion within the welding community. Through awareness, empathy, and a commitment to mental well-being, the welding industry can evolve into a space where workers thrive both professionally and personally.


A welder

What Next For SCH

Gary has made it a mission to make SCH the best possible place to work. With the help of Lynsey and her ‘heart of gold’, SCH has introduced flexi-time, reduced working hours packages and a more relaxed environment. Obviously not too relaxed because SCH works in a dangerous industry where health and safety IS paramount. But SCH have certainly learned a lot from listening to their staff and I have learned so much from writing this article. SCH have made the changes and the outcomes are very positive. Don’t ask SCH, ask Gav and the SCH staff.


The Authors Thoughts

For me personally, I found Gav’s story a powerful one with many lessons to be taken from it. Especially within a male-dominated industry. An awful thing to have to go through, but I believe you come out of the other side like Gav, where everything feels, looks and sounds better than before. I went through the same thing many years ago and so much resonated during our interview. I could see Gav’s animated style which was one of lightness and joy.


For anyone going through anything similar, I cannot state enough that it is only for now. As far as the light seems to be in that dark tunnel, there is a light at the end of it. The first steps are acknowledging you have a problem and then, like Gav, committing to doing more things that take you forward toward a better time. BE COMMITTED PERSONALLY to your own mental health because you are more than worth it! Thank you Gav and thank you to the entire SCH team who I found to be an inspiration.



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