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"Your job is to listen."

A Mental Health Ally speaks!

Mental Health

As part of our Mental Health Allies campaign, we spoke to MediaCom’s Emma Glenn about her experience of being a mental health ally.

We are running a Mental Health Allies campaign which aims to encourage businesses in the UK to adopt a scheme to support the mental health of staff who are in their care. For too long, the survival of the fittest/show no weakness, culture of work has dominated and destroyed many lives in the process, for if you crack and fall, then you are left by the roadside. We want to help end the stigma of mental health at work by normalising it and making sure employees are supported with any issues they have, not scorned.

Our partners for the campaign are media agency MediaCom who are demonstrating how a Mental Health Allies scheme can transform working culture in an office.

Here one of their Allies, Emma Glenn, describes what the role entails:

 

How I became a mentor…

Nancy (Lengthorn, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Future Talent at MediaCom) sent an email around to the company on World Mental Health Day – they were looking at a Mental Health Allies initiative and were asking if anybody was interested. I replied pretty much straight away.

There were some meetings put in place to explain what it would entail and then the training started. We had a day with a brilliant trainer called Rose about mental health at work and how to spot signs and help people in finding help.

How it works…

You’re not walking around in a cape asking if people need help. Your day carries on as normal. But it’s flagged throughout the company that we’re here – on newsletters, event days, and they’re just building a new area of the company website which will be about us – and we have our green lanyards around our necks to show that we are here and available.

And then if someone contacts me, we’ll meet up and have a conversation. This might involve going outside for a walk, or whatever is comfortable.

It’s not like we get 20 people banging down our doors every day, it’s just about being there when people need it. People will come in their own time and when they’re ready. Nancy and her team make sure people are aware of who the Mental Health Allies are, where they are and how they can be found. And it’s then down to the individual to make that decision to communicate.

The Allies have regular meetings to catch up, to make sure everyone is ok, to see if anybody needs any help with anybody, and we have a WhatsApp group to share any articles that are relevant, and things like that.

How an Ally helps…

Your job is to listen and be a sounding board. We’re not experts. We’ve been given training to understand the different types of mental health, but really we’re simply a sounding board so when people come to us they can talk about anything. Often it’s just that they’re feeling really agitated, and don’t know how to talk about it with their boss. Maybe we can give them some advice on a work front, and give them some help there, but it’s more about asking them what they want to get out of the session and keeping it clear that I’m not a mental health counsellor or a psychiatrist, but I can point you in the right direction. I can help you get you the help that you need but I can’t actually provide you with that help.

But as I found myself in the past, the biggest step is actually seeking out help and if someone is doing it with you then that makes it a lot easier. Having to ring up your doctor and deal with it is often something people have to do on their own, whereas with an Ally you have a person to support them through that stage. And then it’s about checking in with them, so they know that you’re still there to help them through that process.

What being an Ally does for you too…

I think it’s changed my life. I’ve had mental health issues in the past and I’ve lost jobs because of it. I got myself into all sorts of trouble, because they weren’t jobs where I felt I could say, “I need help.” I would have been seen as weak and not up to the job.

To now be in a company where my mental health is just normal to talk about and it’s not going to be something you’re judged on, is just invaluable really. It makes you feel so much less anxious about it all. It calms you. And it allows you to do your job much better because you don’t have that fear. You can talk and get the help that you need. Maybe have a couple of weeks off to take a rain check and get some counselling. That will make so much difference, rather than burying your problems, in which case they’re going go get worse and worse and you may end up taking much more time off later on.

A profound change in working culture is happening…

I do hope it’s going that way. It needs to – enough is enough. If you can hand out a gym pass to employees you can also offer them a Mental Health Ally. It’s as important if not more.

It should be the law to have a scheme like this and I would always question a company which doesn’t have something. It’s a no brainer really.

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