It’s here! The blog you’ve all been waiting for – a Q&A with our inspirational co-founder Jonny Benjamin MBE, whose journey from severe struggles with depression to becoming one of the UK’s leading mental health activists, has hit the headlines and played a game-changing role in the world of corporate wellbeing.
Alongside Neil Laybourn, Jonny has spent almost a decade consulting with companies about how to identify staff members facing mental health struggles and how to help them.
Jonny spoke to us about his passion, his work and his driving ambition to make British workplaces altogether healthier and happier places to be.
- What inspired you to devise This Can Happen?
Neil and I have campaigned for years and we’ve noticed lots of good things happening but not in a widely effective way. People seem to be working towards the same objective but not sharing information. The initiatives are often quite isolated and take place in that business alone and nowhere else and we felt it was crucial to bring everyone together and share best practice. Neil’s more daring than I am. He came up with the idea on a train 9 months ago and as soon as I started throwing questions at him, he had compelling answers to every challenge – and so here we are – organising the biggest corporate mental health conference the UK has seen.
- Why do you think corporate organisations have trouble supporting staff with mental health issues?
It’s a question we often reflect on. There’s a lot of fear and lack of education. We didn’t grow up talking about mental health at school or at home and we simply don’t have the language. There are so many misconceptions which create real barriers and even if the will is there people ask ‘where do we start?’ Hopefully TCH will raise awareness and encourage understanding, support and empathy. We’ve seen a big change in the fields of law and insurance, they’re really on the ball, but other industries are falling behind. There’s no perfect formula but this is what we hope the conference will achieve.
- Are there any businesses that are currently exemplary in the way they look after staff with mental health struggles? Can you give examples of how they do this?
Barclay’s launched the This Is Me campaign where staff members shared their stories by video on the staff intranet and it really took off. The videos became the most watched and most shared video content on the intranet. The project had a real impact and helped other businesses come forward. This Is Me has now been adopted by lots of other companies and has paved the way for really positive change. The ripple effect is incredible. When one person comes forward by talking openly about their challenges, others do too. And when one company tackled the issue head on, others followed suit. These are the hardest barriers to break down and Barclays has succeeded. We plan to help others follow in their footsteps.
- Did you always plan to take this route in life or did your own struggles with mental health take you on this journey?
No not at all. I dropped out of uni and then I worked for a production company making TV shows. We made films about mental health and hearing other people’s stories and their struggles helped me to realise that I wasn’t alone and it ignited my passion in the subject. I had enormous difficulty with work due to mental health issues. Much of work is based on performance and I didn’t want anyone to see I was struggling so I didn’t say anything to anyone. My own lived experience of trying to cope day to day made me want to do more to help people solve their problems. So often at the end of a talk someone comes up to us and tells us that they’re battling mental health problems but no one knows about it. It’s sad and frustrating and I really want to help.
- What’s next for TCH?
We are definitely going to go global. This is a world-wide problem. Neil and I have done a lot of work in the US and we’re amazed that they are much further behind the UK than you would expect form a culture that likes to talk. It seems they like to talk about everything but their innermost feelings. There’s so much to tackle globally in terms of awareness. Europe is also not great. There’s so much work to do, it’s a mammoth task. We want to do what the LGBT group has done. They have set a brilliant example by forging a path to awareness and tolerance throughout the world.
Now you have an insight into the origins of TCH and the inspiration behind it. Register your delegation now to meet Jonny and Neil at TCH is November!