A former professional footballer left unable to work due to panic attacks after being diagnosed with a devastating heart condition is launching a campaign to help hundreds of North Wales employees get support with their mental health.
Ian Benbow, Managing Director of Social Impact Company Case-UK Limited, has teamed up with social enterprise RCS (Rhyl City Strategy) to create a single point of contact for employers, GPs, health professionals and employees to access free workplace health support.
It means any employees in North Wales who may need help to cope with a mild to moderate problem affecting their mental health in work, such as low mood, anxiety or depression, can approach RCS’s one stop shop for support.
The goal is to support as many people as possible to stay in work and cut absenteeism and presenteeism in businesses and organisations across Wales no matter how large or small, with the support being co-ordinated from RCS’s offices in Rhyl and Bangor.
RCS has worked for over a decade delivering a range of services to help people across Conwy, Denbighshire, Anglesey and Gwynedd find and sustain employment.
The new partnership will enable RCS to extend its support to more employees across North Wales, including people living or working in Flintshire and Wrexham, and including employees from public sector or larger organisations. The pioneering not-for-profit organisation will direct people to the most appropriate support for them, depending on what their needs are, and where they live and work.
Ian, 46, a former striker with Hereford United FC and Telford United FC, set up Case-UK Limited after suffering severe anxiety attacks following a diagnosis of Hypertrophic Cardio-myopathy, an hereditary heart condition which causes Sudden Adult Death.
Five years ago, the dad-of-three had a defibrillator fitted in his chest and saw the benefit of the device six month later when it shocked him as his heart was failing in work.
He says it was only when he admitted the trauma had severely affected his mental health, that he began to recover enough to cope with the thoughts of working again.
Now he is on a mission to help more people cope with mental health problems affecting their work which may be caused by anything from generalised anxiety, to a marriage breakdown, severe illness, bereavement, trauma, or something as simple as not getting enough sleep.
Case-UK is part of the national Able Futures partnership which delivers the DWP’s Access to Work Mental Health Support Service, supporting people living with mental health difficulties have more good days than bad ones.
Ian, from Merthyr Tydfil, said it made perfect sense to join forces with RCS Wales. Ian was inspired to set up Case-UK as a Social Impact Company after overcoming his own problems and realising more people needed help for a wide range of mental health issues that can affect their work. His other work includes supporting the sustainability of charities across Wales.
“I didn’t realise what the impact would be when I was first diagnosed, I was taken into hospital with a pain in my foot which was gout, but they also thought I might be having a heart attack.
“Eight months later after a series of tests they discovered I had this condition, Hypertrophic Cardio Myopathy which is the same that caused Fabrice Muamba to collapse on the pitch at Tottenham.
“I had the defibrillator fitted which shocks me if my heart fails. It’s very traumatic when it happens.
“The device shocked me twice, the first time it went off I didn’t feel a thing as I was in a meeting with my manager and I collapsed and therefore unaware of the shock until I sat up, however, I received a second shock as my heart hadn’t regulated properly which shot me across the room.
“This event was very stressful for the person who was with me as they had witnessed the event and call an ambulance whilst seeking to keep me calm. I owe so much to her for the support and assistance she gave.
“Afterwards I had this realisation, I’ve been walking around with this ticking time bomb inside me. When you reflect on that you realise, gosh this is pretty serious.
“It was after that when I started having anxiety attacks.
“I would get severe dizzy spells when I would feel sick, faint, and very anxious, it would feel like my ears were blocked and I would start to lose all sensations, then lose control, and afterwards I would feel exhausted.
“What I have learned as part of my recovery is that my mind had just become overloaded by the stress of everything, and so when I was somewhere like in a supermarket where there is lots going on, my brain would get so overloaded that it would start to shut down.
“I was off work for six months while I learned some techniques to cope with it. “I was lucky because of my connections through working with charities and social enterprise after I stopped playing football, I knew lots of people who could help.
“It’s not just about counselling, there are some simple techniques you can use, like I will pick up an item and focus on the small writing, and the action of trying to focus on something specific brings you back.
“You have to focus on your surroundings and what you can see and touch and feel that is tangible, to ground you again. Going outside and reconnecting with nature is very important too so I structure my working day now so I can do this.”
Now, together with Ali Thomas, Operational Director of RCS, he is calling on anyone whose mental health may be affecting their work to ask for help.
GPs, health professionals and employers in the public or private sectors, whether small or large, are being encouraged to pass RCS’s details to any employed or self-employed people who are at risk of going off sick or are already off sick due to a mental health issue.
The first step for anyone wanting support is to contact RCS by phone or email to arrange a face-to-face meeting with one of the team. Able Futures clients will be able to access coaching support from a qualified counsellor for up to nine months.
The pioneering partnership will lead to an improved service offer for a greater number of employees in Conwy, Denbighshire, Gwynedd and Anglesey, said Ali Thomas, Operational Director of RCS.
“Providing timely support for people who are finding it hard to cope in work is hugely beneficial, both for employees and for their employers.
“We face an ever-growing demand for the service, not only from people who are off sick, but also from an ever increasing number of people who recognise they need help to prevent them from getting to that stage.
“The new partnership with Able Futures will mean we can now extend our support to more working people in the area.”
“We all live and work within an uncertain world where anything can happen to anyone, anywhere. Having seen the highs and lows of life that had an impact on my ability to cope in work, I came to understand it is ok to ask for help during difficult times.
“Working in Partnership with RCS will provide residents in North Wales with a co-ordinated approach to mental health support in the workplace”.
During his 18-year sporting career Ian played alongside Wales International Nigel Vaughan and former Newcastle United Player and Lancaster City manager Darren Peacock, and in his final game for Hereford scored the winning goal to finish 2-1 in the 1990 Welsh Cup final against Wrexham FC.
Other highlights include playing against Manchester United in a 4th round FA Cup match in 1990 which Hereford lost 1-0 to Alex Ferguson’s team. Ian later went on to play for non-league teams Merthyr Tydfil AFC, Yeovil Town FC, Ton Pentre, Newtown and Telford United Where he scored twice for Telford United in their 1991 FA giant killing game beating Stoke City 2-1.
He retired from football in 1994 and went on to work as a youth and community project worker for a social enterprise in Aberfan.