This year’s World Mental Health Day (10 October) comes at a time when our daily lives have changed considerably as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Wales and across the globe, the pandemic has resulted in a rise of mental health issues and talking openly about mental health continues to be an important issue. This #WMHD2020, we hear from Anthony of Legal & General who speaks about how they are eradicating mental health stigma in the workplace, writing that it takes “commitment, endurance, collaboration, investment and, perhaps most importantly, it requires change.”

Mental health is an integral part of our unique being – each and every one of us. But it is, far too often, the area which receives the least attention and recognition. It is no secret that one in four of us will, at any given time, be affected by a significant mental health challenge. But it should also be remembered that mental health is, rather, a spectrum and each one of us will, every day, be positioned somewhere on that spectrum.

That is something that we, as employers, need to take into consideration and focus on as we consider both the Wellbeing and the inherent value of each employed individual within our workforce. But, while impaired mental health may represent a challenge that requires more attention, it does not necessarily present a negative outlook.

Even the strongest of us will, at times, be confronted by the challenges of a mental health struggle and, at L&G we also acknowledge that, as an employer, we have a duty of care towards our people. That is something that we take very seriously and have, therefore, put in place various measures to uphold and further improve our available help resources, wherever possible.

We recognise the value of a diverse workforce and appreciate the potential of each and every employee in adding value through their skills, past experiences and, perhaps just as importantly, through the unique person they are – and that includes those with impaired mental health.

But we also acknowledge that the stigma around the subject of ‘Mental Health’ and, indeed, those with impaired mental health, remains to a degree. We have come a long way within our own organisation to eradicate this, but we are always mindful that we cannot afford to be complacent and so we continue to drive forwards towards our goal of eradicating that stigma.

That requires commitment, endurance, collaboration, investment and, perhaps most importantly, it requires change. Change can sometimes be uncomfortable and can, thereby, present its own challenges. But the attraction of the end goal is more than sufficient to surpass all of that. A society without the surrounding stigma attached to impaired mental health would be a shining trophy.

Covid-19 is a perfect example of the unpredictability of life. It has demonstrated how our lives can, without warning, be confronted by unexpected and extreme challenges, and we have to be prepared for such events. As organisations, we need to have both the support structures in place for our people but, just as importantly, the culture and work ethics to support them in such scenarios.

While Covid-19 has certainly been an eye-opener to all of us, as we have learned of the resulting mental health challenges to so many individuals, these events of life are not always as extreme or tragic. However, they are just as worthy of our attention, involvement and investment.

So what have we done at Legal & General?

Firstly, we recognise and acknowledge that ongoing change is required in order to achieve that goal of eradicating stigma. Our program of change has been endorsed by our executive leaders and subsequent initiatives in this direction supported by them.

We have, over the past few years, trained around 160 Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA’s) across the organisation. These colleagues are available to speak with other employees within the organisation who have requested someone to talk to because of presenting mental health challenges or concerns. The Mental Health First Aiders are not there to counsel or diagnose but rather to listen, to encourage, and to then signpost the individual to further professional help – should this be required. We provide support to our MHFA’s to ensure that they remain safe when assisting colleagues.

We have also brought together a considerable amount of helpful information relating to mental health, together with resources relating to physical and financial wellbeing, on our Wellbeing hub. We not only list the names and contact details of our Mental Health First Aiders, but we also post articles about current and topical events impacting on mental health. The Wellbeing hub is available to all of our people across the organisation and is another tool we have implemented towards making the conversation around mental health as ‘normal’ as the one we may have concerning our physical or financial health.  

Furthermore, we believe that there is an opportunity to deliver a message of ‘mental health without stigma’ beyond the boundaries of our own organisation. One should not be penalised for holding up your hand and saying: ‘I’m not okay’. And so, every year, we hold our ‘Not A Red Card’ campaign, where we invite other organisations to enter our ‘Not A Red Card’ awards by telling us what they are doing, either as individuals or organisations, to address mental health and to eradicate the surrounding stigma. At our Not A Red Card Forum, celebrity sports men and women, who have in the past themselves been challenged by impaired mental health, share their stories of the trials and the tribulations, as well as the impact of stigma - but also the road of resilience and the path to recovery.

As the journey towards our goal of ‘no stigma’ continues, our message at Legal & General is clear: ‘It is okay not to be ok.’

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