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Civil Service

Time to Talk Day – the importance of talking about mental health

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: A great place to work, Civil Service Leaders, Health & Wellbeing
Head shot of Jonathan Jones
Jonathan Jones, Permanent Secretary of the Government Legal Department and Civil Service Health and WellBeing Champion

Today is 'Time to Talk Day’ and I hope that some of you were able to take a moment and talk about the importance of creating cultures, networks and practices that promote good mental health.

Talking is important in itself, given the silence and stigma often attached to mental health. This day is a key part of the ‘Time to Change’ mental health campaign: we all “have mental health” so the campaign is relevant to everyone. It presents an opportunity for us all to be more open to help prevent those with mental ill health feeling isolated.

Time to Talk Day 2018 logo and slogan

Earlier today I was invited to take part in a conversation about the diverse approaches to mental health at a seminar arranged by the Muslim Network Collaboration in Public Health England (PHE), Department for Health and Social Care, and NHS Improvement. The seminar’s focus was to build a stronger, healthier community for us all through assessing diversity and inclusion; understanding mental illness; providing insight on cultural influences; and enabling collaboration to develop new approaches to raise awareness and prevent mental illness.

Group of four (3 men and a woman) in front of banner
Jonathan Jones (right) at the Time to Talk Day event with (from left to right) Isabella Goldie, Director of Development & Delivery, Mental Health Foundation; Abdul Ghafoor, Chair, PHE Muslim Network; and Andrew Kean, Deputy Director, Civil Service Employee Policy

I joined a panel discussion on what the Civil Service is doing to build a diverse and inclusive culture, and to support and promote the health and wellbeing of everyone, whatever their background, characteristics or specific needs.  

I specifically discussed the Civil Service commitment to improve services, support and employment prospects for all staff, including those with a disability or long-term ill health conditions, with particular reference to mental health. For example, an innovative Mental Health Executive Coaching pilot, designed in partnership with Valerie Stevenson Consulting, provided coaches with greater awareness of mental health and wellbeing issues. It made them feel able to continue coaching conversations with users and signpost them to available support at the right time and in the right way. After the initial workshop, every single one of the participants believed the learning motivated them to practise and use the things they learnt.

"Faith communities can add a lot of value in helping reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and promoting good mental health. We are optimistic that today’s seminar and PHE’s Prevention Concordat for Better Mental Health will make a real difference to mental health in communities nationally."

Abdul Ghafoor, Chair of the Muslim Network, Public Health England

My aim is that as employers, managers and colleagues we will become increasingly confident in the way we talk about, help break down the stigma around, and show support to those with mental ill health. I am interested to hear what you and your colleagues did for Time to Talk Day. Please do share how you initiated conversations about mental health.

For more information about Time to Talk Day and resources to raise awareness and support others’ mental health please see the Time To Change website.

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  1. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Thank you Richard for promoting this very important day.

    I am really pleased to say that within the FCO, since the launch of the FCO Staff Association The Wellbeing Network, we have seen a change in attitude and an environment in which staff are encouraged to talk about how they are feeling.
    Even the PUS Sir Simon McDonald has given visible support to the Wellbeing Agenda.

  2. Comment by Simon posted on

    Sorry, but from my experience the CS pays lip service to mental health issues. That's evidenced from my own current experience with the attendance management process, and now at my lowest ebb, I'm having to appeal a decision made by someone I've never met!!!!.
    I can easily see that some people would be pushed to do something harmful based on these processes. They need URGENTLY addressing.

    Many processes aren't 'fit for purpose' with regards to mental health, and many indeed exacerbate existing problems.

    Best of luck, but you'll have an uphill battle to address underlying attitudes to mental health. I can see why the old discussion boards (when we had them) were full of tales of woe.

    The CS 'talks the talk', but doesn't back it up when it comes to mental health. I base that on ongoing personal experience.

  3. Comment by John posted on

    I've been suffering from severe clinical depression for nearly two years that I know, (perhaps more unknowingly). It's really hard to find regular professional help from the NHS. The illness becomes a viciously downward spiraling circle to deeper depression. Its really hard to concentrate at work and even more difficult to talk about. I feel on my own, lost and never seeming able to describe the feeling that I'm constantly pressured with. I'm so tired of it as nothing I do seems to permanently help.

    • Replies to John>

      Comment by Rebecca posted on

      John I'm so sorry to hear that you are struggling, I know that it can very hard to discuss these things but please speak to someone today, whether it's a friend, an understanding colleague or your line manager. Help is out there and I hope you can take the difficult first step of asking for it.

    • Replies to John>

      Comment by Jane posted on

      I would echo Rebecca's comments, hopefully just taking the first step of writing this down will give you the strength to ask for help. I know this sounds a bit lame but there are some really good books around which may help whilst you are waiting for NHS assistance, I'm ok You're ok is one and some good tools on the internet. I wish you all the best.

    • Replies to John>

      Comment by Si posted on

      John, I know sometimes men have the big boys don't cry etc issue to contend with or that it's not a mans thing to talk about feelings but I have been to counseling myself and while it's not a cure all it is good to off load feelings to someone with a unbiased view. keep hanging in there, things will get better.

    • Replies to John>

      Comment by Suzy McCormick, Health & Wellbeing, CS Employee Policy posted on

      Hello John, thank you for sharing some of your story here, and I am very sorry to hear about your struggle with depression. Thank you for agreeing that we can contact you separately – we will be in touch asap to go through the support that is available to you in your department.

    • Replies to John>

      Comment by Caroline Bunce posted on

      Please go to your GP, take a partner, friend, spouse, relative to fight your corner. Push them to find the therapy that will work for you, whether that is CBT, drugs or a combination. It'll take time but find what works for you.
      At the moment there is just an empty black pit and nothing anyone says seems to touch it; but it will get better. At the moment you do not believe this, I know, but it will.
      I have been there.
      Hang in there John, try to stay physically healthy; eat well, try to exercise. I know it will just be going through the motions and everything tastes like ashes and every activity is drained of all joy but keep doing it.
      Recovering from severe clinical depression is a long, arduous, battle and can take months/years; and is never completely gone; but it will get better. x

      • Replies to Caroline Bunce>

        Comment by John posted on

  4. Comment by Ian Page posted on

    We also need to remember those of us dealing second hand with Mental Health issues - my daughter has recently been diagnosed with autism but the past 12 years have been a very wearing battle with local authorities , healthcare professionals and schools. These battles will now have to start again as she goes into the post-16 environment .
    It is both mentally and physically exhausting and I would like to commend the Environment Agency for the flexible way in which I am allowed to work to accommodate my external commitments.

    • Replies to Ian Page>

      Comment by Suzy McCormick, Health & Wellbeing, CS Employee Policy posted on

      Hello Ian, thank you for sharing your personal experience and for raising such an important point. It is fantastic to hear that the Environment Agency are demonstrating best practice in accommodating for your needs. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Comment by Stuart Holttum posted on

    A recent report from the Mental Health Foundation noted that "mental health is shaped by the wide-ranging characteristics (including inequalities) of the social, economic and physical environments in which people live", with higher rates of mental health problems experienced by those in lower socio-economic levels.

    "People with no previous history of mental health problems may develop them as a consequence of having to cope with the ongoing stress of job insecurity, sudden and unexpected redundancy, and the impacts of loss of employment (financial, social and psychological)."

    It is therefore logical to conclude that the combination of office closures (90% in HMRC) and years of below-inflation pay (leading to inevitable reduction in living standards) would have had a significant effect on Civil Service staff.

    While I applaud the Civil Service efforts to address mental health issues and the stigma behind them, it does seem ironic that it simultaneously would appear to be a contributor to the causes of those same issues.

    The report can be found at

    • Replies to Stuart Holttum>

      Comment by Si posted on

      I agree, it's great to have support through the departments affiliates but it seems more of a plaster on a wound already caused by the issues you have raised.

    • Replies to Stuart Holttum>

      Comment by Suzy McCormick, Health & Wellbeing, CS Employee Policy posted on

      Hello Stuart, thank you for your comments and for sharing this information from the Mental Health Foundation. We do appreciate that work stressors can contribute to mental ill health - which is why the Civil Service is putting such a focus on addressing mental health and supporting colleagues to thrive at work. To increase awareness at a senior level, the Mental Health Foundation recently delivered a talk about the complex causes of mental health to departmental Health and Wellbeing Champions. We’re also about to launch a programme for senior leaders to trigger a change in the leadership culture - equipping them to identify and manage the impact of their decisions and actions on mental health and wellbeing across the Civil Service.

    • Replies to Stuart Holttum>

      Comment by Simon posted on

      I agree totally Stuart.

      It's good to see "We’re also about to launch a programme for senior leaders to trigger a change in the leadership culture - equipping them to identify and manage the impact of their decisions and actions on mental health and wellbeing across the Civil Service."

      However, that doesn't help those already affected, or those who have been affected and since left (either dismissed or resigned).

      At a time of major change in many Departments, the people element seems to have been overlooked on many occasions.
      There's been an assumption that people will be content to relocate/spend hours extra commuting, that everyone 'thrives' on targets, that the Attendance Management policy is suitable for all etc.

      I could go on, but the impact on people often seems to have been forgotten in the mad chase to change everything. Or it's been included, but overlooked in local areas.

      It's too late for many, probably including myself, but hopefully the gradual changes to improve awareness in the future will help future staff.