We had a double reason to celebrate at last week’s Minds@Work event at the offices of Made by Many in Islington: firstly, in the way that’s now traditional for our meetups, we had a matchless cast of speakers who had come to explain the invaluable work they are doing to destigmatise mental illness in the workplace (more on them shortly). But secondly – it was our first birthday. A cake was ordered, made and delivered, and it fell to Minds@Work’s own Camilla Upson to cut it. “Mills”, as she known to her colleagues, is the secret logistical magic behind our movement, which was founded in August 2015 by Geoff McDonald and Georgie Mack, and she’s one of the key reasons why membership has grown over the last year from a small band of 12 like-minded people to over 260.
Naturally, that doesn’t mean that the work is done. Far from it: it has only just started and judging by the presentations that evening, there’s plenty of it going on already.
For instance, Adam Spreadbury (above) talked about the initiatives being made in no less than the Bank of England to mandate mental health. Spreadbury is co-chair of the BoE’s mental health network, and he talked about the recent “This Is Me” video, in which employees fearlessly open up about their challenges. "This Is Me" was originally launched by Barclays and later open sourced to the whole of the City as part of the Lord Mayor's Appeal. One wonders, if an institution as august as the Bank Of England can lead in this area, just how far can the message spread?
There were further examples of grassroots initiatives. We heard from Deepti Parmar of Oakleaf Enterprise, a Guildford-based mental health charity which offers vocational training, support and activities to adults living with mental ill-health in the area; and from Olivier Vidal who leads The Fair Hiring Project, which aims to level the playing field in recruitment and assist job candidates in authentically telling their stories – including their challenges with mental health – on their own terms, in order to cut bias and improve inclusion in talent selection. And lastly, the teacher Isabel Hutton talked about her work on another frontline where the battle for mental health is being fought: the secondary school classroom. Why not make contact with any of these (in our Slack channel for instance) and see how we can work together??
"Don’t Ask Me What's Wrong,
Ask Me What Happened"
The quote above (which encapsulates a positive approach for working with people who have suffered) came from the eminent Dr Peter Kinderman, professor of clinical psychology at Liverpool University and current president of the British Psychological Society, who added a degree of widescreen context to these strands of activity. A born raconteur with a persuasive and engaging argument (and plenty of good one-liners as well), Kinderman enraptured the gathering with the story of how, in his view, mental illness remains deeply misunderstood and poorly treated in society today, as well as by psychiatry itself. We should be suspicious, he said, of the claim that one in four people will experience a mental health problem in their lives – after all, don’t we all have “mental health”? Similarly, traditional psychiatric models of labelling, diagnosis and treatment need to be upgraded to a much broader understanding of differing inner experiences. As he writes in the pamphlet for his recent book “A Prescription for Psychiatry: Why We Need A Whole New Approach To Mental Health And Wellbeing”, what we today call “mental illness” should instead be dealt with though the “empathic understanding of the normal range of human responses to life’s challenges.” It’s normal to be anxious and depressed, in other words; thus the acid test is how we deal with people who feel those things acutely. And among the Minds@Workers listening to his talk, the feeling of agreement and resolve was palpable, and we could have listened and talked for much longer – but there was pizza, beer and cake awaiting.
To The Next 12 Months And Beyond
So collectively and individually, Minds@Work has achieved a lot in the last 12 months, and the atmosphere at this particular event was celebratory. But we hope it can be even more celebratory in future – only the next day, Geoff McDonald was off to visit Number 10 Downing Street to lobby the post-Cameron government for a greater focus on the area in future…
We’ll be in touch about that when there’s more news to report (and thanks to everyone who came to the event last week), but lastly, please make a date for our next event on December 7, which promises to be the most impactful and inspiring yet. Places will be limited and distributed on a first come, first served basis. We’ll post more that very soon.
Keep up the good work, Minds@Workers!