At Mental Health at Work we partner with clients to create bespoke programmes around mental health within their workplaces, fitting into existing activity and process, whilst addressing specific future requirements.  Recently, we asked Naomi Bignold, HR Business Partner at MediaCom, the UK’s largest media agency to take us through their mental health programme.

For MediaCom, the catalyst to create a robust programme came out of an inclusion event. “As a learning organisation”, Naomi explained, “we’re always arranging these events around topics of interest to employees, but one in 2017 really got the conversation on mental health started for us”.

Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn came into the office to talk about their experience when Jonny was attempting to jump from Waterloo Bridge and Neil talked him down. Years later they got back in touch and now actively talk about their experience.

“It was a very emotive session”, Naomi continued “with people in tears, – including the CEO, and it really lifted the lid on mental health for us, and we decided to do more.”

MediaCom started with a Mental Health week, inviting speakers from charities such as Mind and Stonewall in addition to sessions on mindfulness. They also had individual employees sharing their own personal stories, raising awareness more broadly.  It quickly became obvious that more needed to be done to support employee mental health, helping them know how to support themselves.

Their next step was to start equipping the organisation with skills to manage mental health and began with Mental Health Allies, a group of volunteer employees who listen and signpost for any employee with a mental health concern, “The training really helped demystify mental health issues” Naomi explained, “and provided guidelines on what individuals can and can’t do”. The role of the Mental Health Ally is to listen, without offering advice, signpost where the employee can go for more help such as Employee Assistance Programme and, in a worst case scenario, to help safeguard. The Allies get together regularly to share experiences in confidence and discuss the scenario, helping to build their knowledge and confidence. Some Allies are now looking at masterclasses on specific mental health issues, such as anxiety, to deepen their knowledge and understanding.

The program has been well received, both by employees and leadership. MediaCom are ready to implement the next phase, by introducing line manager training across the organisation, including at a senior level to work alongside Allies.

“It’s a journey”, Naomi commented “one that we’ve really only just started, but we’re excited by how well it’s been received and are keep to continue to build on the work we’ve done”.

Naomi’s advice when setting up a Mental Health programme is to have a plan in place. Start small with an event such as your own Mental Health Week, raising awareness and beginning to dispel stigma.  But don’t be surprised if once you raise the topic you’ll need to quickly look into skills to manage mental health to take the action that employees need, maintain the focus and to keep the conversation going.

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