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Civil Service

Time to Talk Day

Philip Rutnam, Perm Secretary for the Department for Transport and Civil Service Disability Champion
Philip Rutnam, Perm Secretary for the Department for Transport and Civil Service Disability Champion

Today (Thursday 4 February 2016) is Time to Talk Day which aims to get the nation talking about mental health. Mental health problems are common – they affect one in four people every year, yet too often people are afraid to talk about their experiences because they worry it will affect their jobs or relationships. By joining together on one day, we can break the silence and help end the stigma.

Events like Time to Talk are a great opportunity to raise awareness and spur action. Talking about mental health doesn’t have to be difficult! We can make it easier if we challenge the myths and create an environment in which people feel that they can talk openly and honestly about their experience.

Support can make the difference

Since I’ve been Disability Champion I’ve met a lot of fantastic people who have been willing to do just that - have an open conversation about their own experience, of stress, depression, or anxiety. I’ve also seen how one or two brave people stepping forward can encourage more and more to do the same. And the most moving conversations for me have been about how quite simple support from line managers can make all the difference.

Here in DfT we have a Time to Change group run by colleagues. I met them earlier this week to hear about their plans. On Time to Talk Day they are working with volunteers right across DfT encouraging conversations. We’ve also had some fantastic blogs in the past on the theme of ‘This Is Me’ –colleagues discussing their own mental health.

Tips to help you get talking

Here are a few tips that the group shared with me, to get people talking about mental health:

  1. Be aware: Educate yourself about the support available in your workplace, and more widely. There is really good, totally confidential, mental health awareness course available via the CSL portal, and campaign groups like Time to Change offer some excellent resources
  2. Start a simple conversation: Time to Talk day is about reaching people who might not normally think or talk about mental health. This change could be as simple as asking someone how they are feeling that day, or passing on a simple fact about mental health. Many people, for instance, don’t realise that mental health problems are as common as they are and are surprised that one in four people are affected every year. So the chances are that up to a quarter of all civil servants may have a mental health problem, sometimes without knowing it
  3. Be open: Small gestures of kindness can mean a lot, even something as simple as offering someone a cup of tea could make a significant difference
  4. Speak up: Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it, or to talk about your own mental health. By talking about our own experiences with mental health we give permission to others to be vocal about theirs
  5. Be realistic: Focus on what you can reasonably achieve, and avoid placing undue pressure on yourself. Take breaks away from your desk to regain perspective, while getting a change of scene and some fresh air

Across the Civil Service there are some great initiatives to improve the support available to colleagues and line managers – like the appointment of mental health first aiders in every department. Does yours have them? Do you know where to find them?

We’ve also launched a new face-to-face learning event to help line managers understand mental health issues. And last year we ran a really successful work experience pilot for young people with autism, with plans in place this year to increase the number of participating departments and available places offered. Thank you HMRC and DWP for your involvement in this!

Finally, many government departments have signed up to the Dementia Friends initiative which aims to change people’s perceptions of dementia by raising awareness of the illness affecting over 800,000 people in the UK. Anyone interested in becoming a Dementia Friend or get involved can do so by clicking here, or by completing the CSL Becoming a Dementia Friend product.

Let’s break the taboo on mental health. What can you do today?

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  1. Comment by Lorraine Carter posted on

    Managers in TCO( which is under HMRC at moment) do not appear to be aware of this. I recently asked my group manager about it and she told me none of the managers responsible for managing me had any mental health training despite my working with a recognised condition for 14 years. We have a mental health advocate, who apparently is also not trained

  2. Comment by Karen Riedl posted on

    Karen - I have heard that some departments have Mental Health First Aiders or Advocates. Can you tell me a bit more about their role?

    • Replies to Karen Riedl>

      Comment by The Blog Team posted on

      Karen, as Philip Rutnam has written in response to a comment on another blog, every department should have mental health first-aiders - this was a commitment in the Talent Action Plan. Your department will also have a senior champion for disability, who should know, as should HR.

  3. Comment by sandra posted on

    I agree with Maria.I work in a CC and suffer from Mental Health issues and I can feel very alone at times because we have to go straight from one call to another and since colleagues are usually on different breaks you are reprimanded if you try to talk to someone.I can go all day without the chance to even say morning to the colleague sitting next to me. I do find it difficult to make friends and talk to people but this doesn't help.

  4. Comment by Maria posted on

    Difficult to talk to your colleagues or notice how they are feeling when stuck on the end of a line in a call centre! People in call centres can't connect on any more than a superficial level.

  5. Comment by Philip Rutnam posted on

    Gavin, thanks for commenting. I completely agree that this is a year-round challenge and not just one day. I also agree that we all have a role in breaking down the stigma and creating an environment in which people can feel much more relaxed, open and honest. Philip

  6. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Philip, Thank you for promoting the Time to Talk Day. Through my involvement with the FCO Wellbeing Network, I am fully aware of the stigma that is attached to Mental Health issues. In my discussions with colleagues, it has been observed that some staff are relunctant to discuss this topic with Line Managers and Colleagues, as they are concerned that such a declaration will have an impact on their future career prospects. Whilst I am very much in support of Time to Talk - Time to Change Day, I feel that staff should be encourage to have these 5 minute conversations with their colleagues on a more regular basis and just on the 4th Feb. Gavin