Creating a Culture that is supportive of mental health: developing mental health champions

Why is it important to create a culture that is supportive of mental health?

One in four people will experience mental health problems in their lifetime and research suggests one in every six people in the workplace is experiencing such difficulties. And yet most will not seek professional help. The physical and mental health of your staff has a significant impact on your business. Absenteeism is one thing. But these issues will also impact on efficiency, productivity and innovation, so your business really can’t afford not to focus on this. We know that early recognition and early support has a really positive impact on outcome. At this level, professional help is often not required. What is helpful is being able to talk to someone that is supportive and empathic. So developing mental health champions within your organisation who are trained to take on this role can be an effective and cost-efficient solution.

How to develop an open culture and in-house mental health champions

As a starting point, you may want to carry out a wellbeing survey as a benchmark against which to monitor any interventions. It can also help to identify areas of particular need within your organisation. It is really important to have Board level buy-in and to have leaders who are willing to ‘walk the walk’. It is incredibly powerful to have someone in a leadership position who is willing to talk about their own vulnerabilities and to model that this is acceptable and will be supported. It is also important to have engagement with representatives from across the organisation to shape the wellbeing agenda. People with their own experience of mental health difficulties, either personally or through people they know or have cared for, can be a source of energy and passion for developing this within the organisation.

A launch event can really help to give the initiative high profile and can easily be planned to coincide with national/international events such as World Mental Health Day. From there, it is crucial to build the agenda in to organizational workforce processes, e.g. induction for new starters, ongoing management and supervision. The key is to model an open, accepting and inclusive culture.

What training do mental health champions need to have?

It is vital that champions have some awareness of mental health problems and how they can present. It is also important to provide experiential learning opportunities regarding reflective listening skills and empathy. The role of the mental health champion may be very different to the person’s usual role within the organisation. Often at work, we are required to be problem solvers, to be directive, to get things done quickly. This role is almost at complete odds to this: it is about listening not providing solutions, it is allowing time and space for reflection, it is about ‘being with’ rather than ‘doing’. It will also be important for champions to have some understanding of what organizations they can signpost to and to have awareness of when there may be a concern about the individual’s safety. It is also vital for these champions to have someone to reflect with about this role and to ensure they are receiving adequate support to perform the role effectively and safely.

So, the model of in-house champions is in one sense a very simple one. However, for it to be effective, it needs to be part of a wider strategic approach to wellbeing. And Champions need to be given the necessary training and support to perform the role effectively.

If you would like to discuss mental wellbeing in your organisation, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me.