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Mental Health At The Workplace, Surely Not?

30 June 2017 | Oli Kennon | About a 4 minute read
Tags: awareness, discussion, mental health, mental health champions, mind, relationships, samaritans, support, talk, wellbeing


 

“Who wants to be a mental health champion?” The call circulated around the company, looking for volunteers. A new initiative – Mental Health Champions at AND Digital – was starting up. The champions (distributed across the business) were to be trained in the basics of mental health, be able to guide to further resources if necessary, and promote mental well-being throughout the company.

 

Ok, so this all sounded like good stuff. But what would this mean in practice? Who would these so-called champions be? What would they actually do? And by naming a few champions, would that really help to normalise mental health issues and promote mental well-being?

 

Surprised, intrigued and curious about how a company might be looking to promote mental well-being (rather than the outdated rhetoric of profit over all else), I volunteered myself to the initiative. Mental health can often be brushed under the carpet, or dismissed as a weakness, although, these attitudes are changing in the face of some stark realities and tireless campaigning from charities and well-known faces. Given statistics as shocking as the most common cause of death amongst young men being suicide, I was very keen to get involved in promoting mental well-being, in any way I could.

 

Whilst this might be a new initiative in itself, existing behaviours and structures at AND Digital already promote mental health. For instance, the design of our clubs and squads with flat hierarchies, open and people-centric dialogue, and supportive relationships with others all helps to alleviate some of the stresses of working life and reinforces positive focus. The agile tenet of inspection and adaption further helps our squads and clubs consistently adapt to best serve those working within them. In having a personal relationship with my first and second line-managers, I know what is expected of me and they, too, know what motivates and excites me with my work. This equally applies to the brilliant people I work with – we have regular social events and opportunities to build relationships defined not by the work we do but by common interests. This all leads to clearer and more productive communication and a much better chance of performing well, as I am confident of the support I will receive in any role.

 

Nonetheless, it’s been refreshing to witness a company not resting on its laurels. Yes, we have monthly Pulse checks to gauge happiness and engagement within the company, and we have physical well-being initiatives, such as regular fruit deliveries and massages (yes, really). Although, we lacked anything of substance relating explicitly to mental well-being, anything focusing on supporting those suffering from any mental issues. This is where the role of the mental health champion comes in.

 

To be clear, I am not a counsellor or therapist. This initiative is not looking to supplant the role of professional help, which continues to be a vital resource to many. Rather, the modus operandi is to provide some initial support and guidance, normalise the discussion around these issues, and guide to further resources where necessary. Naturally, confidentiality is core to what we do.

 

So, in practice, what has this all meant?

Well, to start with, we now have eight champions, each with a unique perspective and different background – not a requisite criterion, but one I like as it serves to underline the fact that anyone can be affected, and anyone who is should reach out to others for help. The more similarities you can see in others talking about this stuff, the more you may be likely to do the same. Hopefully. Upskilled by Mind, we began our journey to normalise the discussion, and coinciding with Mental Health Awareness week, we launched our initiative company-wide. Each day we issued content related to the topic, and each day the discussion grew. As champions, we also communicate regularly and track what we’re doing to ensure we’re fulfilling our remit. Additionally, we’re looking to launch line-of-business-specific initiatives, and we’re having a dedicated session at our next company day (a day for the whole company to come together to share, grow and reinforce our collective experiences – oh, and also, celebrate the hard-earned successes of our nascent company).

 

On a day to day, the champions seek to encourage discussion and reinforce positive attitudes to mental health, no longer should we be ignoring (even if just through ignorance) the signs of anxiety, depression, or any of the many and complex issues anyone can face. Of course, it can be hard to talk about this stuff and the role of the champion is not to elicit anything unwillingly shared.

 

Over time, the hope is to remove the barriers to talking about mental well-being and normalise the conversation so those suffering don’t have to suffer in silence. Promising signs are there already, we have fantastic support from our leadership team, who are immensely committed to this, and the engagement with the rest of the business is looking good too. No doubt, we have a long way to go, and with a concerted desire to effect change for the better and to support our colleagues, I’m optimistic for what we can achieve.

 

If you want to find out more around mental well-being and support:

Mind: https://www.mind.org.uk/

Samaritans: http://www.samaritans.org/ Tel: 116 123

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