Our Place projectEighteen pubs and clubs across the London borough of Sutton have signed up to a project to promote mental health awareness among their staff.

The pilot scheme is part of 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 past two years. The project and was set up in partnership with the council’s economic development arm Opportunity Sutton.

Staff at the pubs and clubs 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.

Questions they may ask include if the person feels like they may harm themselves or others, whether they have ever thought of suicide or are thinking about it or if they are carrying anything that might harm them or other people.

Should staff believe the person may be at risk of harming themselves or others, they tell that person they are concerned about their safety or the safety of others in the pub or club and that they may need to share with others what they have been told.

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 without seeking the consent of the person while making sure the person is safe and not a danger to themselves or others.

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 the pubs, bars and clubs in Sutton. 

During one busy Friday evening earlier this year he put his training into practice and helped a man who told him he was suicidal and planned to end his life later that night. “The man told me he was going to go home and kill himself,” said Pretorius. “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 got 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.”

Greater understanding

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 competitive paid employment in the borough.

Patricia Park, employer engagement officer for Our Place, said: “We launched the pilot mental health 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 their staff are not only aware of how to support someone in crisis should it arise, 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 has been really well designed and delivered by the Sutton Mental Health Foundation and can be tailored to suit the need of the group involved.”

Cecile Bowie (pictured), community development worker at Sutton Mental Health Foundation, added: “We saw this as an opportunity to raise awareness of mental health issues to a profession we do not deliver training to generally. 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.

“As alcohol triggers disinhibition, some customers may very well present symptoms that are likely to make them more vulnerable. With pub staff having acquired basic practical and theoretical mental health knowledge we hope they will be in a position to keep themselves and their patrons safe whenever they identify emotional distress.

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

Cllr Simon Wales, mental health champion at Sutton Council and sponsor of the Our Place – Embracing Mental Health Project, said: “Since the awareness training pilot 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.”