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.
Mr Paul Wyse