Mental health affects us all. For some it is a deeply personal experience that takes hold at a particular point in time. For others, mental health may be something that witnessed through the experiences of others – friends, family or relatives. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) even before the pandemic one in eight people globally were living with a mental disorder. COVID-19 and all the challenges it brought contributed to a 25% rise in anxiety and depression alone. Talking about mental health is still a challenge but many companies are looking at creative ways to encourage dialogue and break down the stigma attached to mental health. NTT Ltd UK&I last year took the initiative to set up a brand-new program called The Mental Health Avengers (MHA). The results have been transformational.
Can you tell us more and how this all came about?
The MHA program was born out of lockdown. In the UK&I our Human Resources (HR) department ran a survey during lockdown to gauge how people were coping with remote work. When the results came back we noticed a disparity between the feedback our employees were giving us and the usage of some of the related benefits. For instance, the feedback showed a mixed picture of employees’ mental health status and yet, despite having lots of relevant resources and programs available, many just weren’t being used. We dug a little deeper to find out why and found that for most people, they simply weren’t aware of the help available to them. We were also aware of the stigma attached to mental health which means often, people can feel uncomfortable asking for help and statistics show that people worry about the impact such conversations could have on their career.
Our UK&I Sustainability Tribe is passionate about working to ensure that NTT is and continues to be a place where our people can belong and thrive and where people feel comfortable and able to be their best self at work. Together, we discussed how we could approach mental health support from a different perspective and we came up with the idea of the MHA program.
What does the program offer?
The aim of the program is to provide a diverse support network, available to listen, and signpost support where people can go to get help. This might be our employee assistance program, a healthcare provider or just someone to listen. We launched the program in May 2022, as part of Mental Health Awareness week, with the hope of getting 10% sign up by the end of FY22, which we achieved, and now have over 50 trained mental health avengers. We employ an external provider – Mindset Pro - to run the training for our mental health avengers and support this with supplementary internal training so it’s a very low cost, but high impact initiative.
All of the MHAs are employees of NTT with busy day jobs. They volunteer to get involved.
Darren Daly, Mental Health Avenger
Darren is senior service operations manager, responsible for a team of engineers and technical experts.
"After I saw Natalie’s post about the new program I signed up instantly. I wanted to normalize the topic as part of our everyday conversation - having had some things happen in my personal life, it made me more open to seeing new avenues. The training and openness has been incredible, the vulnerability people share shows immense strengths and creates a real inner power for them. They say a problem shared is a problem halved and that’s so true. Being able to verbalize thoughts and share them in the open air. That’s where the employee assistance program can really help and I’ve used them myself so I know how good they are." "The MHA run a monthly get together and talk about ideas and suggestions where anyone can join. We have a Microsoft Teams channel with resources and articles and react to calendar dates like Suicide Awareness Day, Mental Health week and so on. Every Friday morning, we run a 30-minute ‘power half hour’ to talk about a variety of topics within the business and this is a platform our MHAs have supported to cover topics such as mental health awareness, DEI and more recently, financial wellbeing."
Hannah Robinson – Mental Health Avenger
"I was part of the first group of trainees. We all got a mental health qualification and I’ve been part of the team ever since. At one stage I had to make a decision on whether to share something deeply personal. I wanted to remove the social stigma of needing care and when I told my story, people could relate to the issues they saw in their own children. It was a powerful moment where I felt I could openly talk about my issues from the past." "The topics that come up vary from anxiety, depression, burnout, the problem of juggling home and work, menopause. A lot of people have been left feeling isolated post-Covid and some now have ill parents to look after. The impact the program has had has been absolutely huge. It’s done a lot for me and really changed the whole culture within the business. I really believe in this and consider mental health a key part of sustainability." "My advice is look out for those people who are quieter than usual, becoming withdrawn or even very outspoken verging on aggressive. Any kind of change in behavior can be an early warning sign."
It sounds like the program has been a huge success – what has it meant to you?
There’s much more conversation around mental health now. People are willing to share their stories. While we found the early adopters were primarily female we now see more men signing up which is great as we are keen to target men’s mental health. It sends a strong message to our employees on diversity and inclusion. This program has given the opportunity for people to support something they’re passionate about and often have a personal connection with.
I’ve always had a passion for employee engagement and this is something I’m really proud of. It’s the opportunity to make a difference that I’ve really enjoyed. In fact all of my proudest moments go back to sustainability.
Natalie joined Dimension Data about nine years ago before it became re-branded as NTT. She has an HR background with experience working in different roles from business partnering, to payroll and benefits and internal communications. Natalie now works in employee engagement and collaborates closely with colleague, Mike Potts, who heads up UK&I volunteering through the sustainability changemakers program. Natalie joined the NTT Sustainability Tribe that the VP of Specialist Sales set up in 2021 and lead the Internal Squad, which enabled her to get more involved in volunteering and initiatives like the Mental Health Avengers.