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Solving the stigma around mental health

More and more of us in ad land have lived experience of mental health issues these days. In this increasingly busy, ‘always-on’ world the demands and expectations of clients and colleagues can sometimes exacerbate things for those of us who struggle with mental health problems. So, how are we to evolve to allow us to foster talent and offer the right kind of support to those who need it while still delivering first-class levels of client service?

I attended a wellbeing in work conference in Edinburgh last year which showed how businesses can (and must) adapt, and it was heartening and inspiring to see organisations of all sizes taking significant steps in this area. Most encouraging of all was to see how PricewaterhouseCoopers (the second largest professional services firm in the world) has developed their own wellbeing network and initiatives - providing genuine inspiration for staff inclusion, support and retention.

At Space & Time we have long been heavily invested in the wellbeing of our staff, and our mental health is at the forefront of that. We started out on our own journey of evolution around five years ago - the main catalysts of this being the work we have carried out alongside our client See Me, and increased instances of mental ill-health amongst our growing staff.

The agency has had an employee assistance programme available to all staff for some time but, faced with more real-life cases and the threat to both resource and revenue that an increase in absenteeism can pose, it was clear that some areas of our approach needed to be more clearly defined and developed.

 

Fixing the culture

See Me is Scotland’s national programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination, and they have been a client of ours since we planned a successful rebrand campaign in 2014. See Me’s aim is to change the culture around mental health so that people can feel confident in terms of speaking about how they are feeling and asking for help.

A particularly compelling workplace-focused campaign entitled ‘The Power of Okay’ led us into discussions with their workplace team around the ‘See Me in Work’ initiative, which aims to support organisations in addressing mental health, stigma and discrimination issues in work; creating a working environment where staff can feel safe and able to talk openly about mental health issues, and providing support and assistance for those who are experiencing mental health problems.

With a team in place to provide advice and a wide range of e-learning resources available they can offer real help to organisations who want to offer better support to staff.

One of the first steps was to undertake a staff survey - essentially a mental health check for the agency - to measure knowledge of, and attitudes to, everything to do around mental health in the workplace; including training, policies, recruitment and the process of returning to work. See Me helped develop the framework for this along with the roll out and collation of findings. A 74% response rate to the survey indicated a genuine desire to get involved, and 53% of those who responded indicated that they’d personally experienced a mental health problem. The other key findings were an identified need for more information around mental health and better training for staff at all levels.

 

Believing in change

Following the survey findings, we put simple steps in place around mental health like regular wellbeing tips for staff, more frequent promotion of key events and initiatives and more overt promotion of the agency’s EAP. After garnering the support of senior management (something that is essential for any organisation) we have implemented an action plan for the next 12 months with the help of the team at See Me - this includes the appointment of ‘champions’ in each of our five offices, mental health first aid training for all line managers and the development of more clearly defined disclosure and return to work policies.

An agency culture team has been created with the express purpose of developing and delivering these enriched wellbeing initiatives and the introduction of CSR-based projects will help minimise instances of mental ill-health and give staff the much-needed breathing space they need when faced with mental health issues.

We’ll conduct a follow-up survey later this year to ascertain how effective our action plan has been, but initial feedback across the agency is that more information and greater visibility are both essential and welcomed. It’s clear that we all have more to do, but See Me’s workplace initiative has made the process a lot easier for Space & Time.

 

Keith Benzie, associate director at Space & Time.

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