Mental health: where talking really can make a difference

A Future of Fairness includes a roadmap for companies to follow no matter where they are on their diversity and inclusion journey.

Three years ago, mental health and wellbeing were a soft and fluffy nice-to-have, but the conversation, which was already gaining traction, has been accelerated by the pandemic.

When it comes to wellbeing, Diana Tickell, CEO of NABS, has got the industry’s back. She says, "Every company talks about the value of talent. Our vision is to make sure that talent gets looked after in the way it should. We see wellbeing through the lens of mental health... As well as helping people to look after themselves, we recognise the impact that an individual has on the people around them."

Mental health is now a part of the national conversation – look at ITV’s Britain Get Talking and Lloyds Bank’s By Your Side campaigns – and the demand on NABS has been growing steadily, even before the coronavirus crisis put the charity in the spotlight.

NABS was originally set up as a charity to help people in the industry with financial difficulties, but Tickell has developed its model to emphasise mental health, and now more than a third of NABS’s work is in this area.

The business is going through a difficult time – everybody wants more for less, and there’s the collision of constant change, mergers and consolidations. There’s so much churn, and people feel a lack of security as well as burnout.

Diana Tickell, CEO, NABS

The pandemic has exacerbated this uncertainty and introduced new concerns over health, finances and the future, naturally raising anxiety levels and provoking a huge surge in demand for NABS’s services.

NABS saw a 41% increase in calls to its advice line in the first quarter of 2020. Many accessing the service have been looking for practical help around furlough and redundancy, but the new NABS Knowledge Hub counts managing anxiety, emotional health and mental health as among its most-viewed content, and the NABS YouTube channel saw views double in April 2020 as the lockdown took hold.

Enforced working from home has opened our eyes to the positive effects of flexibility on mental health, but it has also highlighted the problems – in particular the lack of connection – brought on by a lack of being in regular contact with other people. In a NABS survey, 76% of respondents cited this as having a detrimental effect on their mental health.

Uzma Afridi, Head of Careers at NABS, advises, "Don’t limit your conversations to just work. We all have good days and bad days, we all have life stuff going on, keep the human personal interaction there…. In particular: don’t make assumptions; and pick up the phone if you need to."

Mental health is the one area of diversity where talking really can make a difference.

Rachel Forde, CEO of UM UK, believes that it’s important to encourage openness and to "make sure that we are listening" as well as providing resources.

UM has developed a wellbeing guide with Creative Equals, offers a company subscription to Headspace, and recently held a resilience workshop which, Forde says, was "a very moving session, where we shared tender and vulnerable truths that would have otherwise gone unaddressed… We have to recognise that it’s OK not to be OK, and to give as many support tools as we can."

Group initiatives keep the issue out in the open, but lunchtime yoga is not enough. Employees need to be supported by an individual approach, because what works for one person many not work for another. Policies around mental illness need to be clear in order to build confidence, so that people know that there really is help out there.

Like many campaigners who want to see real change, Tickell believes that gathering data is important. Employee surveys will give you a feel for the culture, for sickness levels and reasons for absence, and all those things layer up quite quickly to help managers spot the signs and feel equipped to initiate the necessary conversations.

NABS’s Wellfest event launched in 2019, curating a mix of keynote speakers and workshop sessions in an environment where people felt able to share challenging personal stories, develop an understanding of the pressures and stresses they are under, and at the same time get practical tools for coping with mental health issues in the workplace.

Mental health became an even more significant part of the day than we expected. Just sharing experiences, talking about how we cope and where we find support, can help understanding and be hugely impactful.

Diana Tickell, CEO, NABS

The training of mental health first aiders is another NABS initiative that is crucial to raising both awareness and action across the whole industry. Volunteers, now active in many agencies, learn how to help people understand their emotions and how these play out in the workplace, and to make them feel more comfortable around mental health.

NABS plays an important part in the wellbeing drive across the industry, supported by the growth of shared parental leave and flexible working. Together these elements can nurture an environment that has a chance of attracting a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

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Last updated 01 May 2024