` Nicola Cornforth of NIS on why there are no taboo subjects – raising awareness of bulimia at NIS | Reward and Employee Benefits Association (REBA)
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26 Aug 2021
by Nicola Cornforth

Nicola Cornforth of NIS on why there are no taboo subjects – raising awareness of bulimia at NIS

At NIS we celebrate and raise awareness of various events throughout the year, covering topics such as health and safety, mental health and wellbeing, and inclusion. We recognise that the workplace contributes towards employee mental health and wellbeing, and we have several things in place to support individuals, including a dedicated wellbeing room and a team of wellbeing champions.

By raising awareness, educating, encouraging discussion, and offering support, the engineering and manufacturing facility aims to create an emotionally safe space for employees, where there is no such thing as a “taboo” topic and negative stigmas can be broken.

 

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Tackling bulimia head-on

In September 2020, an NIS employee informed the director team that they had been receiving treatment for bulimia for the last two years and would be appearing in the BBC documentary Freddie Flintoff: Living with Bulimia. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, bulimia is an eating disorder where an individual will binge eat and may then make themselves vomit, use laxatives or resort to excessive exercise to “correct” the binge behaviour.

The topic of eating disorders is not something that NIS had covered in any detail before, but we felt that it was an opportunity for us to start the conversation and raise awareness. As this topic was one that carried personal experience, NIS’s main objectives were to ensure that the individual felt comfortable to share their story with colleagues, and that the communication was done in a way that was personal and informative.

The content of the communication featured an introduction from the wellbeing team, which included links and contact details of various eating disorder charities, a message of support and encouragement from NIS’s managing director, and an article written by the individual about their experience.

Due to Covid-19, NIS employees were split between working onsite, working from home, or were placed on furlough. As such, it was decided that the communication would be sent via email, which would allow employees to read at their leisure and give them direct access to the various links.

Whenever there is an awareness event, the wellbeing team ensure that they are up to date on relevant training and have details of relevant charity information. The wellbeing team then act as a sign posting service to support any employee who may be affected by the topic being raised.

Breaking down barriers

The initial response from employees was surprise. Surprise that a colleague could be dealing with something like bulimia, and no one be none the wiser. This topic really challenged people’s understanding and thoughts about mental health and wellbeing. In particular, the preconceptions of appearance that just because someone looks healthy and happy, doesn’t mean that they are. This topic highlighted that mental health is a hidden illness and can affect anyone.

There were various topics of conversation around bulimia and mental health which resulted from this awareness event, including:

  • Someone may look healthy on the outside but be struggling on the inside.
  • Are my own eating habits healthy?
  • Eating disorders do not just affect women. Figures from the BBC documentary highlight that up to one in four people suffering from an eating disorder are male. But 60% of men with eating disorders don’t seek professional help.
  • How can we encourage men to speak up in general about mental health?
  • As individuals, what can I do to support someone with mental health?

Raising awareness of bulimia and the conversations which took place, were only able to happen because someone felt able and safe to share their experience. At NIS we will continue to promote positive mental health and healthy living whenever possible, and will continue to be a part of the solution by breaking negative stigmas.

“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candour and more unashamed conversations,” Glenn Close, American actress.

The author is Nicola Cornforth, assurance manager at NIS.

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