Looking after mental health in a pandemic

World Mental Health Day on Saturday 10th October creates an opportunity for us all to reflect on the importance of our own and each other’s mental wellbeing.

2020 has been a tough year for everyone, and now, more than ever, we need to understand and support those who may be finding it difficult.  BAT’s Jo Vezey became the company’s first mental health first aider back in 2017. Three years on she leads a team of healthy minds ‘champions’ as she drives awareness of BAT’s Healthy Minds Initiative in the UK.

“Our volunteers are such a fantastic group of people,” Jo says, “and there are always more people who put their hands up to ask if they can volunteer. Now, anyone who needs to, can choose a Healthy Minds champion and access the other sources of support that are currently available. Before lockdown, champions could be approached in person, but at the moment it’s all via Microsoft Teams or email. There’s no way we could have predicted COVID-19 would happen, so the fact we already had our champions in place meant we were able to quickly signpost people. It means we’ve been able to continue providing crucial support to our BAT colleagues during a really challenging period for many people’s mental health.

“Asking for help isn’t a weakness, it’s a sign of strength.  You aren’t alone and it really is ok to not be ok”.

Jo is happy to share her personal mental health journey, which has taught her how to cope and help others. Back in 2017, after returning to work following a diagnosis of depression, Jo made a pledge to provide support to any BAT colleagues struggling with their mental health. She set up the Healthy Minds initiative which allows her, together with her team of champions, to provide support to those who need it.

“When I came back to work after five weeks off, I was terrified,” Jo says. “There is still a massive stigma around mental health conditions and I didn’t know how people were going to react to me. But, when I got to my desk, I found some flowers and a glass tumbler covered in love hearts that one of my friends had bought me. It was just what I needed to feel welcomed back into the office. Despite my fears, people didn’t avoid me, they actually came over and asked me how I was doing – it was so comforting to know they really cared and weren’t afraid to talk to me.

“Leading up to my diagnosis, I hadn’t known who I could turn to, who I could ask for help,” Jo says. “Yet once I was diagnosed, the support from BAT was just incredible. There was never any pressure on me, and my Line Manager and Departmental Head were both utterly brilliant. I told them that leading up to a mental health crisis, it’s really important for people to understand how to step in and signpost people to support. I also told them I wanted to become BAT’s first mental health first aider, and the company supported and paid for all of my training."

WOrld mental health day
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