Mark Flannagan: The thanks are lovely but we need action

My blog of last week has helped to start a wider conversation about the mental health needs of charity workers but now we must do everything to make the sector a model place to work, writes our columnist

Mark Flannagan
Mark Flannagan

For our sector to have had so many conversations about mental health on thirdsector.co.uk last week was a huge step forward. Congratulations to all those who joined in and spoke out, revealing their own stories and, in some cases, traumatic experiences.

The reaction of my peers to my own story has been a deeply emotional experience for me. Thank you to everyone who commented publicly with such kind comments. To those who got in touch privately with warm words and, occasionally, to share their own stories, my fondest best wishes back. I really do hope that together we have opened the door to making the sector not just more open about mental health as an issue for all, but also more accepting that those who suffer don’t just need sympathy, but also real concrete help.

For the future, I dearly hope that some of our higher-profile leaders will also share their personal mental health challenges. We have established that being a charity chief executive carries with it huge responsibilities and massive pressures. These combine to create stress that is hard to understand and deal with. This stress can sometimes be a contributor to depression, anxiety and many other mind-challenging symptoms. Please, therefore, help others by acknowledging your own frailty and telling the whole story about what being a chief executive can bring.

For sector-wide leaders, the representative bodies, the conference organisers, the head hunters, you should accept your responsibility to put this issue front and centre all the time. There is a lot of focus on the sector under fire, the income challenges, the need to campaign in a harsh political climate, and these are all seen as hard issues of professional practice.

But don’t keep relegating mental health to wellbeing seminars alone, or a checklist for individuals on "how to handle stress". Please give attention to good mental health at every opportunity. Make a pledge to address the stigma that still exists, as much as we now, thankfully, try to attend to issues of diversity and equality. There is a lot of work to do, and we must do everything to make the charity sector a model place to work.

For those of you who are going through your own mental health challenges, take heart. What we have learned is that most of the time there is sympathy and a willingness to give you the space and help to get better. You are entitled to understanding and the space to get better. I really hope, but maybe can’t yet believe, that last week’s series has been a turning point. For those in positions of power and responsibility – you have work to do.

Mark Flannagan (@MarkFlann) is a former charity chief executive who now works in the NHS

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