Our keynote speaker was Poppy Jarman OBE who is the CEO for City Mental Health Alliance and an Ambassador for Mental Health First Aid England.
She was excellent. Inspiring, open, honest and shared personal MH experiences which if you follow my ramblings you will know I believe is the key to the MH challenge.
8-10,000 people a month are being trained in MH first aid (have you been?). She talked about the 'Where's your head at' campaign to change the law on MH.
Poppy talked about turning Shame into Dignity, she talked about her coping mechanisms when life is tough.
1. Regular exercise
2. Gratitude diary to note 3 good things a day
3. Allowing transition time between highs and lows in her life.
If you want a speaker to come and talk to you about MH and MHFA, contact Poppy, she was ace.
Jo Oakley & Jo Leyland from CS talked about workplace adjustments next. I found this particularly personally interesting as it focussed on knowing the individual and noticing changes in behaviour to prompt conversation.
I work 40 miles from my manager and none of my team sit near me. That is a challenge we face with lots of people. We then had a group discussion about this scenario (I think Andy was me actually and they changed the name to protect the innocent).
I was the only man on my table of 8. I suggested that I would want my manager to take me off site and have a chat to try and understand me better. The conversation at the table quickly turned to what i would describe as an unconsciously biased fear, that because the word 'confrontational' was used and Andy is a man that he might get violent so you wouldn't want to meet him off site.
This annoyed me, but I didn't say much in case anyone thought I was being confrontational.
Isabella Goldie the Director of Development and Delivery for the Mental Health Foundation was next. She had a really complicated diagram which i have to admit I struggled to follow but i think was about all the contributory factors to how you think and feel.
Debbie Alder HR Director General at DWP talked about building line manager confidence and barriers to this confidence when supporting people in their teams. Debbie shared that she had once taken 3 months off work with stress. Again an excellent and inspiring example that you can have MH challenges, can be open about them and can be ok and eminently employable.
My tables discussion about this was interesting. One of our main conclusions was that you need to care first, be a human first and a manager second. It reminded me of this that I used in my first ever blog and the recognition that you play a number of roles.
At lunch i failed to make my finger fit in a cup again, ate 2 apples to keep the doctor away and chatted some more to Debbie Alder and had a good chat to Georgina from DoH about the links between the environment and good health and how we should be combining forces more across departments. I wrote about that once.
I also talked to the people from the Charity for Civil Servants about all the great resources they had available for wellbeing, have a look here.
Julia Longbottom from FCO then told us about the work they were doing to support staff MH, focussed on those in other countries (did you know there are 4000 FCO staff in the UK and 10000 abroad). They are training staff in mental health first aid and visiting various embassies and consulates across the world to roll this out, without a Ferrero Rocher in site (i think we were all a little disappointed that didn't get mentioned).
Dr Gemma Penn told us about the work MHCLG are doing about secondary traumatic stress (the emotional duress an individual can get when you hear about the 1st hand experiences of others). She talked about Rotherham, she talked about Grenfell.
I thought this was really interesting and not something I was aware of but as a lot of my colleagues can interact with the public who have for example recently flooded it seemed like something to learn more about. I'm going to find out more about the after care we give to staff after incidents, we have a 'recovery' phase of our incident response but does this sufficiently cover our people.
MHCLG also have loads of great MH initiatives in place.
The day ended with a panel session with questions about an ageing workforce, men's mental health and suicide being the biggest cause of death of men between 20-49 (that was mine but we didn't talk about suicide although I did afterward to the panel members) and the role of faith groups.
We got a couple more handouts including this great quiz and an MHCLG document with a top ten tips for working with emotionally difficult issues.
John Manzoni (Chief Exec of the Civil Service) gave concluding remarks. John was honest about the challenge, about how he needed to improve his knowledge about mental health and his willingness to learn. The support and commitment from the top joined up with passionate people at other levels is exactly what we need to drive change.
I took this as an opportunity to present him and the other panel members with a swiftly scribbled 'post it' with the link to this blog on it. They all said they would have a read. I hope they do.
Then everyone made pledges. This is m'col James'. We've already agreed to try and run our own event, perhaps as an unconference and keep spreading the message that everyone has mental health and its ok to talk.
I'd like it to have some more on mens MH, more examples of coping strategies, more sharing from senior leaders on their experiences and how they or their loved ones cope.
And perhaps a vision on what we want MH in the CS to look like in a few years. Will it be on every team meeting agenda? will people be 'allowed' to have wellbeing days off? Will the stigma be gone about talking openly in the office?
All in all a good, long overdue day, and an excellent platform to build on.
My anxiety means I spend a lot of time focussed on the past about what went well or more likely what didn't and what might or might not happen in the future.
One of my 'creative' outlets is to get things down on virtual paper and see if I can make them rhyme. It helps. It gets it out of my head, I like the process of creating and creativity makes me feel good, even if the content is sad I can take something from the process.
So, why not try something creative, writing, singing, interpretive dance. It doesn't matter what it is really, the solace is in the process, not necessarily in the result. It's the taking part that counts.
Sometimes I wish I had the words
to let you know just how absurd
these thoughts are running through my brain
when I think of you
It's like a tap I can't turn off
an asthma sufferers nasty cough
the past and future fuck me up
when I think of you
I just think what I say is bad
I hate the thought I've made you sad
the seconds hurt, the minutes drag
when I think of you
The pain of loss of such a friend
pokes a wound that never mends
My stomach churns like washing machines
when I think of you
I saw you today it made me glow
like ready brek does in the snow
you'll always give me butterflies
when I think of you
I try and write about how I feel or how I think and hope that it resonates with others, either because they feel or think similar, know someone who does or maybe know little about my chosen rambles.
So today I thought I’d write about my Grand Old Duke of York feelings.
“When they were up they were up
And when they were down they were down
And when they were nearly half way up they were neither up nor down”
I’m rarely half way up. I flip between up or down.
When I’m up I’m really up. Positive, enthusiastic, full of energy.
The challenge I face is that it I can suddenly go down a snake and then be down, sometimes for no apparent external reason, but rather because my mind has suddenly just flipped and decided that I’m not actually a good person, an intelligent person, a kind person, good company etc.
This can happen in an instant. It might not happen at all. It might happen every few days.
It happened on Monday evening in the pub. I was having a great, funny, entertaining conversation with 2 work mates. All of a sudden I noticed myself going quiet, engaging less in the conversation, focussing more on my phone than the people.
I can’t put my finger on why, I just know it happened. Something inside said to me something like ‘these people think you’re too loud, too silly, too direct’.
I hate it when that happens, but I’m getting better at spotting when it does or might so that I can correct my behaviour, or consciously decide that actually it’s alright to be myself but just to keep an eye on how being me might affect others, but don’t overthink it.
I guess what I’m really worried about is perception by others because my self belief and self worth is still low and I’m trying to build it back up.
So there are 3 choices.
I’m choosing 3.
3 is after all the magic number.
Take care and realise you have a choice
One of the reasons I think people struggling with their MH don’t talk about it is because they care. A lot. And sometimes too much about the people they need to reach out to.
I think this is particularly true with anxiety. When one of the main things that would help you is to talk, to get things out of your head where you’re only having conversations with yourself. But you don’t. You keep it all in. Because you care more about what other people will feel or will think about you. And shouldn’t you be caring for yourself first?
Isn’t it selfish to be selfless?
Is the only time you think of yourself when you take a selfie. But then you spend ages criticising who you see in the picture, or worrying what other people will think if your share it.
I had an amazing conversation recently with someone who shared with me. And they got upset. Which I can understand but they didn’t need to. I didn’t understand what they were coping with but I learnt a lot. I didn’t judge them. I didn’t like them any less after. In fact I liked them more. I respected them more. Not just for sharing but because they had been brave and strong enough to put themselves first and take care of themselves.
I shared some of my MH ‘journey’ at work during mental health awareness week on our intranet. Nearly 3000 people read it (over 25% of the organisation) and I had e mails from people I knew, and many I didn’t thanking me for sharing.
Sharing is caring. It’s caring for yourself. It’s caring for those who support you. It’s caring for those who maybe don’t know you but it would help to understand you a bit better. It’s caring for those who may feel the same way as you but aren’t yet brave enough to share and feel like they are alone battling their demons.
Confidence and work.
Confidence and love.
Confidence and life.
Why is confidence at the heart of so many things, and why is confidence so hard.
You can be the best worker but without confidence you may not progress.
You could be the best partner but without confidence not find a partner.
You could have so much to offer in life but without confidence not achieve or indeed enjoy.
Confidence is made up of many things. Genetic and life experience / ability to learn / change.
I don't think mine is naturally very high (my uncontrollable factors). But I'm going to try and have more faith in my own abilities and do a little assessment, trying to err on the positive side and see myself in a positive light.
It's now 15 mins later and the table below was really uncomfortable to complete. Natural low self confidence makes me challenge every time i write something positive and make me think 'people will think you're arrogant, you're a dick', but I'm not doing this for them, I'm doing it for me, so here it is......
So (being positive and confident) I'm actually in good shape, I have a lot going for me.
The really interesting one was self trust, 80% of confidence is made up of these uncontrollable components and mine is a lot better than I would naturally think. I have not had a terrible time, my upbringing was not terrible, I can do lots of things and learn. So why don't I trust myself more?
I think that comes down to the other part of the table, the controllable factors.
Here (after another 15mins) is my honest, and positive assessment of those
So I think all of my controllable is in a pretty good place and I could:
- stand taller every day
- get back to the gym and eat more healthily
- smile more
- invest more time in training my mind
- record, revisit and believe my achievements, no matter how small
and crucially, give myself a break, look at the positive bits and be thankful for that.
When troubled by challenges of the mind
Give yourself some space and time
Think beyond those negative thoughts
Reach out to friends, get some support
Stormy skies will clear and again be blue
Your smile creeping back, a glimpse of you
Try see yourself as your friends might
And bring some daylight to your night
You're special, valued and unique
Today, tomorrow and every week
Remember that if you're feeling low
And let those thoughts just come, and go
The key to all is to love yourself
It's the starting point for your mental health
So take a small step towards the new
And everyday, in everyway, be proud, you're you.
Mr Paul Wyse