A defining moment
Last year I gave a speech at the Manchester Central Convention Complex for the NHS Confederation Conference. After Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind, set the scene by outlining the fantastic report into workplace mental health he and Lord Denis Stevenson published, I took to the stage to explain what we, at the City Mental Health Alliance, were trying to achieve.
I explained our vision of a healthier work environment in the City. That our strategy for achieving this is to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health, improve mental health literacy and identify practical steps businesses can take to protect peoples’ wellbeing. I also outlined the three most significant lessons we have learned. First, the need to make mental health a board room agenda. Second, the power of personal stories. And lastly, the value of collaboration.
As I left the stage, Simon Stevens, the NHS chief executive, came on to give his key note speech, marking the organisation’s 70th anniversary. In the subsequent Q&A he said:
“The CMHA is a brilliant example of how businesses can contribute to the health of the nation and ease the burden on the NHS”
For me, this was a defining moment. Those words rekindled the pride I feel in what we’ve achieved so far and my confidence and optimism about what we can accomplish in the coming years.
1. A board room agenda
When we set out seven years ago, we decided that in order to create a cultural change in organisations, we would need to make mental health a board room priority. Through focusing on this, we have been able to see the shift in culture across entire organisations – from the top to those just starting their careers. Our graduate research last year revealed the concerns many people have for their mental health when starting a career in the City. In response, the CMHA’s Thriving from the Start Network has been created, a mental health community led by, and for, those early in their careers. I believe changing culture from the top paved the way for creating a Network where those early in their careers can talk openly about mental health at work and feedback insights to City business leaders.
2. The power of personal stories
When the CMHA first began, it was difficult to find anyone willing to share their story. Seven years on, it has been fantastic to see so many senior business leaders come forward and lead the charge on breaking down the stigma around mental health. Brian Heyworth, the CMHA’s incoming chair, was one of the first senior City business leaders to share the powerful story of his own lived experience. In the last few months alone, we have shared the stories of Shalah Akhtar, Oli Bredski and Anastasia Vinnikova who are all part of the Thriving from the Start Network. We have seen how sharing stories is one of the most impactful ways to create a culture of openness and elicit change.
One of the most important factors in the development of the CMHA has been collaboration. I have no doubt that the impact and long-term sustainability of the Alliance has been possible because of this. Our members have shown what is possible through working together, and not competing. It is this collaboration that has led to the CMHA’s Thriving at Work Guide, a unique toolkit to help businesses become mentally healthy workplaces. The guide is now being recognized around the world as a structured, practical approach to building a strong mental health strategy at work.
As we have grown the CMHA, I am incredibly moved by the number of fantastic people who have given their time voluntarily to help create mentally healthy workplaces. The last few years have been a really important time in human history in changing attitudes to mental health and I believe we have shown that businesses can play a large role in this. I look forward to seeing the CMHA continue to develop and grow as it expands across the U.K and into new countries to inspire health creation. I would like to congratulate Brian on his appointment as chair and Beth on her appointment as deputy chair and I have full confidence in their ability, with Poppy Jaman our CEO, to lead the CMHA in the coming years.
To end, I would like to say thank you for all the support you have given me, the rest of the Board, Poppy and her executive team. I am proud of the progress we have achieved together and have thoroughly enjoyed my time as chair.