11 Mar Workplace Mental Health Collaborative
When I did my Scottish Mental Health First Aid training, I was struck by the power of bringing people together in a room to acknowledge, address, and connect around mental health. In my time working at MHScot I have seen this enthusiasm echoed by many who engage in our trainings and workshops, a palpable desire to improve wellbeing. But I’ve also noticed how difficult it can be to bring this spark and community support back into the workplace. People return to daily tasks, pressures, and face the challenges of systems.
Recognising the need for space to connect and share around mental health at work is what sparked the idea for the Workplace Mental Health Collaborative. It is a networking event that brings together Mental Health First Aiders, and those interested in wellbeing in the workplace, from across sectors, organisations and roles. Our vision is to cultivate knowledge exchange, community, and support for individuals and workplaces passionate about wellbeing.
The inaugural Workplace Mental Health Collaborative event
The first mental health collaborative networking event took place at the beginning of February in the beautiful Henry Irving room at the Lyceum Theatre. When we sent out invitations to our past clients, we were amazed when tickets sold out in less than 48 hours. It appeared that people were craving space to connect!
We welcomed 25 people on the night and the room was buzzing with excitement. We held space for everyone to share their backgrounds and motivations. We broke into small groups to discuss what worked well in our organisations, what could be improved, and dreams for the network. We spoke these ideas into the group and then classical networking ensued; small conversations, meeting new people, mapping possibilities.
What we learned
We learned that some workplaces are already taking wellbeing seriously. A few have dedicated wellbeing officers and resource available for training across levels. One organisation had a specific wellbeing email account to send out information on various initiatives while giving employees a space to centralise asking questions. Then there were things that seemed more widespread, like wellbeing days and framed activities for staff such walks, gardening, yoga, volunteering and more. Celebrating these successes felt important and provided a sense of relief that things are happening. Hopefully it sparked ideas between people as well.
But it was also clear that there is still need for improvement. One of the biggest barriers named was a lack of buy-in from Senior Management Teams. How can we expect culture change in organisations if isn’t traversing all levels? This is definitely in keeping with our thoughts here at MHScot, where we’ve developed not only a one-day mental health training for managers, but a half day business case and awareness workshop for senior leadership. For me there is something to be said for continuing to raise our voices, providing the information and encouraging a holistic approach. With so much diversity of experience there cannot be a one size fits all approach.
Another challenge came as a reflection that sometimes actions taken by organisations can be superficial. A tick boxing exercise without substance behind it. And unfortunately, we do see this. So many factors, from stigma, to not having a proper knowledge of employee needs, to diverging priorities mean that sometimes just a one-off training or awareness week is used as a perfunctory action.
I do find some hope in the fact that these actions are even unfolding. That there are rooms full of people acknowledging and thinking on how to change this. And perhaps this means down the line the ideas we cultivate together will need to move into campaigning and really putting pressure on industries, and our society, to properly resource and value mental health and wellbeing.
What to expect moving forward
We collected the feedback of those that attended to make sure this network is a true response to people’s needs. There were some logistical points that became clear; a preferred quarterly frequency, late afternoon events and a sense of reasonable pricing (don’t just trust me, trust the pie charts!).
More excitingly a vision for moving forward emerged. A safe space to share ideas, to learn about best practice, and to air the challenges of working in such complexity. A deep need for celebrating and learning from each other’s experiences as Mental Health First Aiders was clear.
In hosting the Workplace Mental Health Collaborative, we are committed to listening to these needs. We will bring in speakers (spanning experts, voices of lived experience and those of MH First Aiders), encourage sharing between attendees, showcase research as we come across it and keep the conversation about wellbeing in the workplace as wide and inclusive as we can.
Thanks to all who made this first networking event a success and we are looking forward to seeing you in May!
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Written by MHScot Team Member, Lily Asch
Views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in our blogs belong solely to MHScot.