Supporting staff mental health in the voluntary sector

“People often feel like they can’t talk about their own issues because we’re supposed to be helping other people.”

Dementia UKIn the voluntary sector, you’re often focused on your organisation’s mission, the people you’re trying to help or the change you’re working to bring about. Your own and your staff’s wellbeing can easily feel like a lower priority. But more and more organisations are realising that supporting others just isn’t sustainable if you aren’t supporting yourselves and your colleagues. We asked Michelle Lloyd, Office Manager at Dementia UK, to share what’s been helpful for them, and to choose some key resources and tools that they’d recommend to others in the third sector.

“I think most people who come to work in the charity sector are people who want to do good; to give something back. So there can be a reluctance to admit that perhaps you’re not doing so great yourself. But just because you’re in a charity helping this cause or that, it doesn’t mean you won’t have your own issues, including in the workplace. The pressures are the same: people have personal lives, relationship issues, childcare issues…”

And, depending on your charity’s focus, the work can bring particular subjects and experiences to the fore for colleagues working with the public. “Our Supporter Care team take phone calls every day, sometimes from people who are distressed or need help. And our Fundraising team can be out at events dealing with people who are running in memory of someone, and need a bit of extra support on the day.” And all of this is happening in an environment where people feel more scrutinised than ever to make sure their time, money and energies are being spent in exactly the right way.

So, where to start?

Money is often a factor

First in our list are campaigns from Time To Change Time to Change Time to Change is a growing movement of people changing how we all think and act about mental health. View organisation and Mental Health First Aid England Mental Health First Aid England Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England provides a range of training to empower people to care for themselves and others. View organisation. These don’t cost any money, barely cost any effort and are a light and easy way to build an atmosphere that says staff’s own wellbeing is important, not just those whom they’re working to support. In particular, awareness days like Time To Talk Day “are a way for people to get behind it without feeling nervous.”

Along the same lines, Michelle has created a wellbeing area in the kitchen – “It’s a space where people can informally go and get information if they’re not sure they want to speak to someone.”

A noticeboard on a kitchen wall, containing posters and leaflets encouraging staff to look out for their colleagues and have conversations about mental health, and informing them who the trained mental health first aider is

Embedding policy and practice

Next, three ways – still free of charge – to take things further, putting policy and practice in place that can help make sure people are supported. Wellness action plans can be really empowering both for staff and their managers: “It’s not about labels; it’s about an honest discussion.” And expert advice from Roots HR Roots HR Roots HR is the UK’s specialist consultancy for human resources and health and safety services for the social sector. View organisation and NCVO ​National Council for Voluntary Organisations The National Council for Voluntary Organisations champions the voluntary sector and volunteering. View organisation can be invaluable: once people become more confident in talking about mental health, they might consider things like time off or flexible working when they hadn’t before. “Some charities don’t have the luxury of a dedicated HR person!”

Investment can be worth it

In the end, “you have to recognise that, as a charity, your staff are your asset.” Supporting them is a good investment. So, our toolkit finishes with two paid options that Dementia UK have found invaluable: training from Mental Health First Aid England Mental Health First Aid England Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England provides a range of training to empower people to care for themselves and others. View organisation, and the Workplace Wellbeing Index from Mind Mind Mind provides advice and support on mental health, and campaigns to improve understanding, across England and Wales. View organisation. Between them, they’ve helped Dementia UK to spot problems, see where to focus, and provide staff with the confidence to do so.

Resources in this toolkit: