Today I have the privilege of joining Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England as Chief Executive.
I am excited to be joining an organisation that seeks to make mental health a normal part of everyday conversations; to challenge the stigma associated with mental health and to create a society that is literate in mental health, where we all have the skills to support our own and others’ wellbeing.
All of my personal and professional experience tells me that our emotional wellbeing and mental health is core to who we are, to the choices we feel we have and can strongly influence our behaviours. And for that reason, we must pay much more attention to mental health in every single walk of life.
Thankfully we are starting to recognise the importance of supporting positive mental health, promoting wellbeing, and ensuring when we experience mental distress or illness we can get swift access to support and services we need.
That recognition was very publicly reflected by the Prime Minister at the start of 2017 when she delivered the country’s first ever Prime Ministerial speech on mental health, announcing the government’s plan to “transform the way we deal with mental illness in this country at every stage of a person’s life.” Other government funded initiatives include the national roll out of Mental Health First Aid training in every state secondary school and the Mayor of London recently announcing a Thrive LDN programme which will deliver Youth Mental Health First Aid training into every primary, secondary and special educational needs school across the City by 2020.
The importance of mental health is also reflected across other sectors, such as the City Mental Health Alliance and the Royal Foundation’s Heads Together Gateway providing workplaces with access to a wide range of support and training options, pioneering work within the Armed Forces, and employers like WHSmith, Ford of Britain and Unilever demonstrating best practice around ‘whole organisation’ approaches to mental health, including large scale adoption of Mental Health First Aid England training.
But we clearly have a very long way to ensure everyone can access the support and services they need. Too often workplaces do not invest in creating healthy cultures, or in ensuring leaders and managers can support the mental health of employees. We know that schools are not always investing in pastoral care and support, and that funds do not always reach the mental health services for which they were intended.
It is going to be an exciting first week for me. World Mental Health Day is on 10th October. On Monday 8th October we will gather in the Houses of Parliament to ask businesses and politicians to support our call on government to reflect mental health in workplace First Aid regulations. Later that day along with Bauer UK, Natasha Devon MBE and Luciana Berger MP we will deliver the Where’s Your Head At? Campaign petition to Number 10.
Signed by almost 200,000 people, the petition calls on government to ensure every workplace - including schools, colleges and universities - have as many Mental Health First Aiders as they do physical First Aiders. This will be a timely reminder that transforming how we deal with mental health is not something to just hope for, but something that can be accelerated through legislative change.
Tuesday 9th October will also see MHFA England celebrating another big achievement – the launch of an evaluation conducted by University College London, measuring the impact of year one of the government funded Youth MHFA in Schools programme. We will hear firsthand from teachers, pupils, parents and academics about their experience of Youth MHFA training and the impact it has had on their lives, and share our #HandsUp4HealthyMinds toolkit developed in line with the WMHD theme – Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World.
On the 9th and 10th October, the Department of Health and Social Care is hosting the first ever global mental health summit – an event I will be attending alongside others in the mental health sector. Bringing together leaders from 80 countries Ministers want to see a strong commitment to investment in mental health, reflected in a declaration. You can join the conversation at #TheWorldNeeds.
With all of this activity taking place, of which on day one in my new job I obviously know only a fraction, it is clear this is a really exciting time to be joining the mental health sector and the MHFA global community. I want to pay tribute to Poppy Jaman, the founder and previous CEO at MHFA England, all of the MHFA community and central team, and our partners who have done so much to get mental health firmly on the agenda.
I have a lot to learn and I look forward to working with colleagues and collaborators working for a society where mental health is part of everyday conversations.
My Twitter handle is @simonablake, my Instagram is @simonatMHFA.