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Diverse Voices : Mental Health

Placeshapers: Talking about mental health

Stacey Dove, Incommunities blogs about our latest Diverse Voices session.

In the latest of the Diverse Voices series, PlaceShapers welcomed speakers to share their lived experiences of ill mental health, bereavement, caring responsibilities, declining mental health of our networks, how to better support each other, and more.

Chaired by Julie Doyle, CEO of Longhurst Group and Harry’s Pals supporter , panellists included Hattie Llewelyn-Davies, Chair of Eastlight and PA Housing, Ian Martin, CEO of Estuary Housing Association and Aileen Evans, CEO of Grand Union.

The lunchtime session was packed with emotive stories, alongside advice and learning which stemmed from personal experiences.

I was struck by how genuine and open all speakers were and how beneficial this was to providing such an honest and helpful discussion – it was definitely the first Zoom webinar I’ve cried to!

My key takeaways from the session were:

  • Be aware of stereotypes. Consider the stereotypes in your mental health communications – Aileen highlighted how high on online image searches pictures of people with their head in their hands or crouched in a corner appear when searching “mental health” or “depression.” A person suffering from ill mental health can – and does – look like all of us, so it is important the way we communicate our wellbeing resources with employees and residents reflects that.
  • Time, space and kindness are vital. Ian spoke about how valuable the support received from his colleagues and line managers was following bereavement: “I had the space not to be okay, I wasn’t judged on absences or being upset, I could talk about it. I could be vulnerable and we talked about how we were feeling. If I had a tear in my eye that was okay.”
  • Don’t underestimate the practicalities. The panel acknowledged how beneficial flexible working policies, personalised return to work plans and counselling are. Mental health days incorporated into absence policies can also help encourage open conversations on wellbeing.
  • You don’t know what you don’t know. Working in housing means we are often more aware than others of the support available in our communities. Recognising this demonstrates how important housing associations can be in signposting support and wellbeing resources to residents. 
  • “You can’t pour from an empty cup – making yourself well is least selfish thing you can do.” Taking time to identify what self-care works for you, and providing the space and opportunity for others to do the same, is necessary for positive mental wellbeing – self care isn’t selfish.
  • It is good to talk, and not being okay is okay. Talking about your emotions and feelings is helpful and can help others too – bottled up emotions will often present themselves in different, often challenging ways. All speakers stressed the importance of genuine personal interactions in their mental health journeys, where time is taken to listen and respond accordingly.
  • Our lives are shaped by the wellbeing of others. It is important to recognise, for example, the impact ill mental health in a colleague’s family can have on them.  Feeling like you have to be “the strong one” needs its own support mechanisms.

Stacey Dove
Communications and Stakeholder Engagement Officer, Incommunities
Co-Communications Coordinator, Yorkshire region, PlaceShapers