World Mental Health Day – how can we make the mental health conversation more inclusive?

09 October 2020
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Our Head of LEP Communications and Organisational Development Aissa Gallie shares her thoughts on the theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day – Mental Health for All.

The theme of mental health awareness day this year is, ‘mental health for all’. Reading that, I can’t help feel there’s something missing, something that helps me relate to this campaign, personally.

The mental health agenda often talks about people in crisis. While it is incredibly important to keep the spotlight on this, it can mean that a lot of the more ‘everyday’ impacts get lost. Many people who ‘cope’ with certain mental health issues, do so silently. The term ‘mental health’ can feel like it’s referencing something that occurs at an extreme. This blog explores how ‘mental health for all’ can work as an inclusive idea, and how connection is something we all deserve.

My past professional experience includes five years working within the voluntary sector for charities delivering support for the homeless. The support ranged from street outreach for entrenched rough sleepers, to safe housing for women and children made homeless through domestic abuse. We very often spoke about the mental health of those we were supporting, people whose lives, I am hugely grateful to say, seemed a million miles away from my own.

I have personally overcome a diagnosed mental health condition, PTSD, which I suffered after the birth of my second son. This period of my life was so incredibly hard and now that I am well, I look back and know that I am in such a different place these days. Compared to that time, I’m definitely mentally well.

So if overall, compared to harder times or to those who are really suffering, right now I’m okay, does ‘Mental Health for all’ feel relevant for me?

In our organisation, we are often at the mercy of change – due to funding cycles, politics and even due to pandemics! To better support our team, over the last couple of years, we made a decision that we wanted to bring mental health into the realms and the vernacular of the every day.

We took an education-led approach – in 2018, we ran a 5-month internal campaign, looking at the 5 Ways To Well-being. We came at it from quite a light-hearted position, taking team walks and sharing skills from curry making to perfumery. It was positive and enjoyable, and the team walks continue to this day.

In 2019, we ran another education-based campaign over 3 months, building confidence in our teams to recognise and manage mental health in ourselves and others, and how to talk about it with one another. At a leadership level, we began to explore how we can manage our people with their well-being at the centre of our understanding of success. As a result, all of our senior team have undertaken training and we now have a mental health first aider.

When COVID hit and the majority of our team began working from home, we capitalised on the work we’d done previously, simply by virtue of the fact that health and well-being was already at the forefront of our minds. Yet, if we’re really honest with ourselves, we need to go a lot further. There’s so much more we can do to build well-being into our planning, decision making and our culture.

Every month we have an online team cuppa. This hour long, zoom session with the team is a ‘work-talk free zone’. It is definitely not easy having a fully inclusive video call, but we are getting better at it. In our call this week, we discussed orang-utans, Christmas pudding hats and best box sets amongst other things.

I have to confess; all the campaigns and training have not come close to the positive impact on my well-being that sharing this hour with others had. I came away feeling light, when I had no idea that I’d entered feeling heavy. I realised it was because I felt connected to my teammates, really connected, for the first time in months. I wouldn’t say that I have concerns about my mental health currently (all things considered) and yet, I felt so much healthier after this simple hour of chat and banter.

For me, mental health for all – is connection for all – for feeling as though you’re together with others and that you’re not alone. The simple pleasure of a smile left on your face from feeling surrounded and supported by others is something we all deserve in the good times, as well as the bad. If that isn’t the case for you right now, please reach out.

If you have any concerns regarding your own mental health of the health of someone you know – you can find advice and what support available to you:

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