Many organisations focus their mental health communications around set dates such as Mental Health Awareness Week, yet as we have all experience, colleagues need support throughout the year. Many communicators have been reaching out to ask for help and guidance on how to communicate mental health support to colleagues and FutureNet committee member, Dan Holden has shared some ideas to help.

I'm sure like many of you have found over the past 12 months, the support and communication activity around wellbeing has increased as we've all tried to adapt to new ways of working.

Earlier in the year I shared some ideas on how the campaign #kindnessmatters by the Mental Health Foundation as part of Mental Health Awareness Week can be more than just a one-off comms moment. The ideas are all based on working remotely rather than face to face and used the awareness week as a campaign moment rather than an isolated activity. If you have any comms activities that have worked well, please do share them in the comments at the end.

The wider picture

Before you read on, consider:

● Are there plans in place to support championing mental health throughout the rest of the year?

● Is there buy in from across the organisation including the leadership team to support the campaign?

● Do you believe that your organisation has mental health embedded in its wellbeing strategy and that the leadership is behind it?

If you answered no to any of the above, I'd question whether you're doing the right thing by trying to promote wellbeing as a one off moment and approach your HR colleagues to look at the longer term plan. Mental health shouldn't be a standalone campaign. It takes time for people to feel comfortable in talking about it and reaching out for support.

Rachel Miller and Jo Hooper shared some excellent advice in this AllthingsIC blog post about what you should consider in your communications planning of Mental Health Awareness Week. Jo also has lots of advice on her website, mad and sad club including her thoughts on the pros and cons of focusing on single moments such as Mental Health Awareness Week here.

Encouraging conversations

Mental health is a conversation topic that many people feel uncomfortable starting, although I've seen an improvement in this over the last couple of years. More organisations appear to be accepting that mental health isn't something to ignore and they can do much to support their employees. Your role can have a real impact in getting all levels of the organisation involved

However, launching a comms moment on wellbeing could be the first steps to make a difference in your organisations so here are my suggestions based on a limited or non-existent budget.

Launch your wellbeing strategy

Using a national mental wellbeing moment can be an ideal way to share with colleagues a new wellbeing strategy, showing that the organisation is taking the subject of mental health seriously. Encourage your HR team to sit down and talk through what they have planned for the months ahead. This could be the ideal opportunity to plan out a longer term communications plan to share the support services available around wellbeing.

Sound bites from the leadership

Each Mental Health moment often has a theme so plan for a short video at the start and end of the campaign with your leadership team answering a simple question related to the theme.

For example, 2020 is about kindness so maybe a question on what kindness means to them or to share an act of kindness they've received or seen would be a friendly way to promote visibility of the leadership team. You could also add a call to action and get colleagues to submit their own videos.

Thank you eCards

You can make available a collection of image files that colleagues can download and include in an email to each other. Containing simple thank you messages, these are a simple way to encourage colleagues to take five minutes to pause and think about acts of kindness that they've experienced.

Quotes of kindness

I've seen many people on their social media channels sharing quotes that inspire and resonate with them, so why not try the same? Ask colleagues to share a single sentence about what kindness means to them or an act of kindness that they have never forgotten about. These can then be multi-purposed for cross channel use.

My story

People love reading about people and there is nothing more powerful than sharing stories of our own experiences. Putting a note out asking if anyone will share their personal story is powerful and will gain a lot of support from colleagues. It doesn't have to be recent but slowly helps makes inroads in people feeling confident to talk about mental health

Time to talk volunteers

Knowing who you can talk to is often a challenge faced by colleagues who perhaps don't feel comfortable speaking with their managers.

A small but helpful tool is to identify people in the business, perhaps staff forum members or those that actively engage in your wellbeing programme to offer their support to sit and listen to others. They aren't there to provide professional advice but offer a friendly face and signpost to support services and resources. A small badge on a company lanyard maybe saying 'Let's grab a brew' or 'Let's take five' is a more discreet way that these volunteers are visible in the organisation.

This approach would need planning with your HR team to make sure volunteers get the right support and training first. It might not be a full mental health first aid course but an in-house training session, running through the multiple resources available and scenarios that might come up in the workplace.

Line manager guidance

It's important to keep in mind that line managers could worry about how to go about starting the conversation of mental health or spotting the signs that a colleague is needing support. Managers will appreciate advance notice of the communication activity you'll be sharing and any tools you can provide on facilitating conversations.

You can find more information on the following sites:

CIPD - Managers guide to mental health at work

People Management - How to start mental health conversations with your employees

Time to change - Equip line managers to have conversations about mental health

Keeping the conversation going

If collectively we can keep the conversation around mental health going throughout the year, it would be a great step forward in changing the conversation within our organisations. Mental Health Awareness Week should be just one of many wellbeing campaigns that you and your HR colleagues can be running.