Busily bussing commuters around town in Halifax and supporting colleagues as a mental health first aider at First Bus is all in a day’s work for bus driver David. Alongside running a recreational local football club, playing squash, and juggling family life with two young sons, outwardly the 37-year-old is the picture of happiness.
Yet David has worked hard, and continues to do so, to combat mental ill-health that threatened to overwhelm him. He credits the help he received from Able Futures’ “legend” Peter Robinson-Vernon, and the backing of his employer First Bus, in helping him turn the corner on the road to recovery.
Badged as being ‘over emotional’ in his teens, David was reluctant to seek help for his anxiety and panic attacks and began studying a teaching degree. By 2018, the stress of his studies and issues at home resulted in a full breakdown. He dropped out of university, took numbing medication, was declared bankrupt, and for 18 months rarely left the house. He describes himself at that time as ‘becoming easily overwhelmed, bad tempered, struggling to sleep, and craving fatty foods’.
Seeing a vacancy for drivers on the back of a bus, David applied to First Bus – fully declaring his health conditions – and inadvertently changed the course of his life. Supported by a company mental health first aider, he soon became a friendly face on Halifax town’s bus routes and qualified as a mental health first aider himself in December 2021, which was when he heard about the support Able Futures could provide. With his anxiety rising about world events, David self-referred and was able to access immediate support.
Able Futures delivers the Access To Work Mental Health Support Service in England, Scotland and Wales. Led by Ingeus, it gives free mental health support to anyone in work. Funded by the Department for Work and Pensions it provides access to a personal Vocational Rehabilitation Consultant (VRC) for nine-months’ regular mental health advice.
“My VRC Peter has been tremendous,” says David, who is now awaiting ADHD screening. “I admit to being pretty flaky initially, not feeling able to face our calls. Peter simply rescheduled them, he was never judgmental, just determined in a patient way to help me. It created a bond that has only grown since then.
“He’s an ear to listen, but also challenges my comments in the nicest way. He helps me rationalise and has given me practical coping mechanisms to get my anxiety under control. I feel in a calm place, off medication. We’re now moving onto controlling my impulses, especially around my eating disorder, but I feel more secure now and ready to take the next step forward.”
Peter also encouraged David to continue with his physical exercise, including running Halifax Friendly Football Club, which has even tempted David’s previously-football-hating wife to don her trainers! She too is a bus driver and David has negotiated his shifts with First Bus so he can accommodate the early morning school run before work.
First Bus is one of the UK’s largest bus operators and understands the challenges its drivers face, both on and off the road. Their mission, to be an inclusive employer where everyone is welcome, can be their true selves and succeed, has seen David qualify as a mental health first aider. He also sits on the company’s wellbeing inclusion network, called Oxygen, and is exploring other roles in the business where he can continue to make a positive impact.
“First Bus invested in me when I needed it most – and through them, I found Able Futures."
Mubs Mahmed, First Bus Wellbeing and Engagement Coordinator says: "We understand the challenges our employees face both on and off the road. Our mission is to become an inclusive employer where everyone is welcome, can be their true selves and succeed.
Colleagues who have used Able Futures have given some fantastic and overwhelmingly positive feedback. It has helped them restore routine back into their daily lives, helped them with coping strategies to help them manage and cope with mental health crises."
David says he's now focused on supporting other people to get the help they need when something is playing on their mind at work: "I’m intent on progressing internally to help other people with struggles like mine. As a mental health first aider, I’ve helped 25 colleagues in the past year, helping them stay in work and understand they’re not alone. My journey with First Bus and Able Futures continues. I now know I may not be able to stop things happening in life, but I can manage how I deal with it.”
Anyone in work can access Able Future’s help, with or without their employer’s knowledge.