24th February 2020 – Last weekend’s devastating events have forced all of us to stop and think about mental health.
The tragic loss of Caroline Flack and the appalling impact of Storm Dennis on families around the country have hit us all hard.
It has made me put mental health – mine, and that of my family and colleagues – at the top of my list of priorities. We never know what disaster may befall us. We never truly know what’s going on inside someone’s head. This means we must all act with kindness and compassion towards others, and try to educate ourselves about the best way to handle a mental health crisis.
When I came in last Monday, I was determined to be the best version of myself. When you run a fast-paced technology start-up, it’s easy to race around and have a myopic focus on getting the job done. I wanted to take the time to speak to my people, and to make sure every individual knows my door is always open if they need a chat.
At 9am on Mondays, I have a call with my sales team. It is usually pretty lively, fuelled by coffee and adrenaline. I admit to getting quite heated sometimes.
On this call, I promised myself I would stay calm. Who knows what people are really feeling? Who knows what might tip someone over the edge into depression or anxiety? I found myself speaking quietly, and motioning for others to lower their voices and be calm. It was a new experience and one I enjoyed.
At BigChange, we are committed to supporting those with mental health issues. We already offer access to a 24-hour counselling helpline as an employee benefit, and we pay for face-to-face therapy if required. We have switched to a 4.5-day workweek to give people more time with their families, more time to exercise, and more time for self-care. We are moving to a 4-day week in 2021.
We also recently appointed a new BigChange ambassador: Michelle Dewberry, winner of the second series of The BBC Apprentice. She is an incredible advocate for mental health awareness and has spoken to the team here about how she handled her own depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. We don’t want people to try and hide their mental health issues away, so having a vocal and charismatic ambassador championing this has been really powerful.
But I want to go even further.
Next Monday will be the first meeting of a new steering committee on mental health. People from all around the business will meet and share ideas, voice concerns, and talk about any pressures they face. We will take action on any issues we can fix.
We were also recently part of a mental health round-table, coming together with several other companies through Connect Yorkshire to talk best practice, and hear about each other’s initiatives. It’s amazing how much you can do at low or no cost, from creating mental health first-aiders in the business, to inviting organisations like Mind to come in and raise awareness across your company.
I’m not a specialist in mental health. Few people are. But that shouldn’t stop all of us from trying our best to be there for the people we care about, be they family, friends, or colleagues. It all starts with a willingness to change, and an open mind.