What does mental health mean to you?
If I am being totally honest, the words ‘mental health’ used to be a real trigger for me and I was very much part of the stiff upper lip brigade. It’s still a habit I am having to unlearn. I was taught to soldier on. There was just too much to do and that there was no room to prioritise my wellbeing. My friends still tell me off for my tendency to ‘rally’ and for not putting myself first. I am still learning!
Mental health should be for everyone. It should be taken as seriously as we take our physical health. If you are having a bad mental health day, feel free to take a walk or take care of yourself in the same way you would if you had a headache, for example.
What do you think of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week nature theme?
With 45% of people reporting that being in green spaces has been their main way of coping throughout the pandemic, nature makes an excellent theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week.
For me, going for walks in nature really helps me reset. Even if I’m at work in the middle of the day, walking around the block makes a world of difference. On the weekends I plan longer walks with friends, as being in nature and getting the endorphins going puts me in a great mood. We’ve spent months making up ridiculous storylines to imaginary musicals involving land otters just to realise we are experiencing that ‘runner’s high’ after climbing a big hill!
What other measures do you use to help your own mental health?
I love to bake! It gives me the chance to be creative while still using some rules. The best thing I find about baking is that you get to make something, see it come out and then make someone else’s day by giving them free cake.
What advice would you give to others to help with their mental health?
Mindfulness and self care is important. This does not necessarily have to be meditation and bubble baths. For years I was worried there was no space for me in the world of mindfulness. Luckily I have friends who are mindful practitioners who have shown me that it’s ok that sometimes, instead of meditating, I have a kitchen boogie to some Lizzo. My self care might be a facial while theirs might be a gong bath. It is also ok to have a bad day! You always want to feel positive but self care can sometimes be a day watching Beaches on the sofa and having a good cry.
What do you think we can do, as a community, to help people with mental health issues?
Number one is having the conversation to begin with. We are all guilty of asking how someone is but not really listening to the answer or even expecting them to answer a certain way. We need to talk without fear and judgement and give people the freedom to do the same. I really like this year’s Mental Health First Aid (MHFA England) campaign about being your whole self. That is being able to open up and show all parts of your identity. For me it’s always been about creating a place of belonging for everyone which is what I am striving towards. Let’s keep the conversation going!
There is still a stigma around mental health, especially in particular communities, and different people have different ideas and views about what it means. I think it’s super important to remember that what works for one person may not work for another.
What is disguise doing to help bring awareness and support for mental health issues within our community?
We encourage open conversations about wellbeing, whether it’s on Slack, in disguise’s company-wide Town Hall meetings or face-to-face. Reminding people to look after their mental health and practice self care can be easily neglected - especially during the pandemic when we don’t always see each other in person.
At disguise we have buddies who are trained in Mental Health First Aid. A buddy is someone who is able to offer a listening ear and chat, without judgement. Our buddies are able to help spot the signs of mental health and are invaluable in providing early support for someone that needs help. This can be an initial conversation or support that can lead to signposting an individual to get appropriate help in a crisis.
We provide disguisers with a Wellness Action Plan to give people the tools to have open conversations about their wellbeing and the challenges and struggles they may be facing. We have an Employee Assistance Programme that allows disguisers to confidentially call about any worries or concerns they may have.
We have various initiatives to assist employees lead a balanced life. Our “Yoga Fridays” are virtual sessions where instructors lead employees in desk-based yoga to help them build exercise into their working day.
In the UK region we also hold a financial education workshop for advice that assists team members with their own financial wellbeing.
At the end of May, we plan to launch a free subscription to Calm for all disguise team members. With this, we hope to help empower them with tools to meditate and manage stress.
We are just starting this journey with mental health and there is still much more to be done. One thing I know is that mental health is really important and I am excited to be part of the solution.
Check out this short film from Echo Productions shot on our London xR stage, raising awareness of mental health in the entertainment industry. All proceeds of the video are going to BackupTechUK and Mind charities.