Mental Health Awareness Week: meet our Time To Change champions

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, an initiative created by the Mental Health Foundation to help people understand, protect and sustain their mental health. 

As a professional membership body that employs over 370 people, the Royal College of Physicians values greatly the positive mental health of our staff and in the week prior to lockdown in March 2020 we launched our Time to Change Initiative (TTC). 

The TTC initiative was created to promote an organisation-wide conversation around wellbeing. As part of the initiative, we nominated eight TTC champions, people who are sympathetic to the issues around mental health. Thanks to the TTC initiative, the Royal College of Physicians won a Memcom award in 2021 for sharing best practice in wellbeing and mental health support. 

Two of the eight TTC champions, Ele and Debbie, are members of the RCP London Events' team. On the occasion of Mental Health Awareness Week, we spoke to them about what the TTC means to them and why they got involved.

Ele and Debbie, Time To Change champions

How would you define the TTC initiative? 

TTC was created to eradicate the stigma around mental health and give people within the RCP the permission to speak up about mental health and change their attitude towards it. 
Many people see mental health issues as a failure, but in recent times there has been a change in attitude and mindset, recognising the importance of talking about and taking care of your mental health.

What role do you play in the TTC initiative? 

If anybody feels like they need to speak up about mental health but feel they can’t speak about it to their colleagues or managers, us champions are there to listen confidentially. 

We are a resource our colleagues can tap into when they want to talk to someone who is impartial. We were given training to learn how to look out for key mental health signs and are a first point of contact, a lifeline for some. We’ve found that often people just need to get things off their chest, they don’t need advice, just someone to listen to them in a safe space.

Why did you decide to join the TTC initiative? 

Ele: I like the initiative, I have my own stigmas but I wanted to be part of this to destigmatise mental health. It gives me comfort to know that a project like this exists and people are advocating for mental health. It makes these conversations normal. 

Debbie: I joined to lend my support. I think it is time to change and make that mental shift, to have those conversations. Being part of something like this is so important. 

How do you look after your own wellbeing and mental health? 

Ele: Talking, being part of a group that validates the need to speak about mental health and being vulnerable work for me. Exercise and taking care of myself are also important. 

Debbie: Being part of the group was a massive help to me especially during lockdown, as everyone talks about their mental health openly. Exercising is also important for me but also accepting that there are days when you might not feel like it too and that’s okay. If I learnt one thing from this whole experience it is that keeping things bottled up is not healthy.

More information about the TTC initiative 

In the week prior to lockdown in March 2020, the Royal College of Physicians launched the Time to Change (TTC) initiative, utilising an all-staff meeting so 300 members of staff could simultaneously discuss mental health. The pandemic was already weighing heavily on our minds, but little did we appreciate at the time how important these discussions would be in the coming weeks and months. 

The TTC launch event epitomises our approach: senior leaders prioritised this exercise to ensure that staff were able to engage fully and 30 staff volunteered to facilitate these conversations. 
We didn’t start with a blueprint of ‘how to support people through a pandemic’: we were guided by our value of ‘we care’ and invested our resources in listening and responding to what staff needed. We created five wellbeing initiatives as part of the TTC: 

  1. Time to Change champions network – As well as prompting an organisation-wide conversation around wellbeing, the other purpose of the event was to recruit potential TTC champions – people sympathetic to issues around mental health, able to offer a listening ear and to signpost to other support. We were extremely fortunate that eight people volunteered to be TTC champions. Within a couple of weeks we had translated the classroom-based training course to be delivered in online workshops – during the pandemic, we have trained a further two cohorts of TTC champions. These champions have been critical in supporting the wellbeing of staff, promoting wellbeing resources and providing another channel for the employee voice, in addition to our valuable and insightful Employee Forum.
  2. RCP Café – The TTC champions have played a critical role in delivering the RCP virtual café: when lockdown was announced, so we set up the RCP virtual café to run three times a week to create an informal drop-in space. We have run special cafés for Black History Month, Time to Talk Day including a musical quiz, Star Wars Day (4 May – there was some dressing up!) and ‘team in focus’ promotions. 
  3. Virtual networking – We received feedback that some people didn’t feel comfortable coming along to the café as they didn’t know who they would be meeting and thought they might be forced to share their feelings! If you truly value diversity, you can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach. To provide opportunities for people to connect within a more professional context, we introduced virtual networking where staff sign up, are randomised into pairs and arrange their own meeting. 
  4. Learning resources – Ongoing skills development is critical to an organisation’s ability to adapt and deliver. Change and wellbeing were the themes for our virtual managers’ conference. Our broader training programme for all staff included courses to help people strengthen their physical and mental resilience, as well as courses to develop practical skills to tackle stress triggers, eg managing workloads, difficult conversations. Our staff are extremely conscientious and committed and found it challenging to adjust to reduced capacity, caused by restructuring and flexible furlough. To support managers and staff, we developed a visual conversation tool to demonstrate different scenarios to help prompt and support their conversations around capacity and workload. We established a learning hub, encouraging people to access online learning during their furlough periods.  
  5. Wellbeing fortnight – In January 2021 many people were feeling quite low, so wellbeing fortnight, was perfectly timed. While this event had run previously, this was the first time it ran 100% virtually. The wide-ranging programme included yoga and meditation, mindful drawing, workshops to build confidence and communication skills, virtual museum tours, Zumba classes, history lectures and more! All for a budget of less than £2k. Two-thirds of people in the organisation got involved and 98% agreed that it contributed positively to their wellbeing.

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