A client said to me the other day “we are talking to you about awareness raising training but what would a wider strategy for mental health or wellbeing look like?” It got me thinking.

What’s the goal?

At the highest level this is about increasing engagement and productivity, while at the same time managing very real risks for the organisation.  The overall objectives of the strategy might be something along the following lines:

  • People are more aware of their own state of mental health and more able to take care of it;
  • Greater permission for people to talk about how they are feeling with less fear of being stigmatised for doing so;
  • Support available to those in need including greater willingness on the part of managers in particular to engage with problems;
  • Genuine acceptance, tolerance and respect for those suffering from mental health problems.

How is this achieved?

There are two elements to this:

  • raising awareness of the issue so as to equip and allow people to have the conversations that are necessary; and
  • putting in place appropriate resources to support people going forward.

Raising awareness

This will involve training focused on ‘starting a conversation’. Peoples’ attitudes and behaviours will change most quickly following relational one to one discussions. The more we talk about this, the easier it will become. It is always helpful when people in the business are willing to talk about their own lived experience, particularly senior people.

The training might involve:

  • short (90 minute?), highly interactive sessions delivered to all staff, potentially in large groups up to (say) 100 focused upon self-awareness and self-care;
  • add on sessions for line managers about their responsibilities as managers, to be aware of their impact on others, to feel able to have the relational conversations necessary to discuss issues with their team, and to be able to sign post individuals to available resources.

To make sure the conversation can start happening, it’s a good idea to capture the population in a particular area of an organisation in a relatively short time frame – more conversations will start if people are hearing the same messages at the same time rather than months apart.

Appropriate resources

It is important to join up any mental health resources with other areas of activity within the organisation such as physical wellbeing, engagement, effective line management etc. all of which have a major impact upon mental wellbeing. Mental wellbeing can’t stand in isolation, the message will be much more powerful when understood as being part of the general activity in the organisation. Specific mental health resources might include:

  • A network of Mental Health First Aid for England trained first aiders throughout the organisation. These first aiders would be from all levels of seniority and would be there as “go to” people when someone feels concerned about themselves or others.
  • A dedicated site on the intranet with resources that might include information, breathing exercise Apps, links to online CBT and other resources, talking heads from people telling their personal stories, organisations that might offer help, the EAP and resources available locally such as counselling.
  • Programmes of activity aimed at wellbeing. These could be based around the Centre for Wellbeing at the New Economics Foundation’s five ways to wellbeing, all of which can be part of organisation wide activity/initiatives: Learn, Connect, Give, Take Notice and Exercise. Much of this does not need to be all about new initiatives, or even rebranding existing initiatives as being under the wellbeing banner, but simply acknowledging the link those other initiatives have to mental wellbeing and seeing them in part at least through that lens.

Benchmarking and monitoring?

It might be that before embarking on a strategy, it would be helpful to conduct a benchmarking/risk assessment process. This could be aimed at identifying key areas of risk within in order to prioritise those areas and target resource. This may involve the identification of KPIs that would then be measured over time to assess the impact of the strategy. It might also help to establish the business case for the investment of resource in the strategy. Appropriate KPIs may range from the obvious such as reported levels of absences or referrals to your EAP to the less obvious like consumption of caffeine or the number of times lift call buttons are pressed by people waiting for the lift.