Highlighting mental health issues
As we mark Volunteers’ Week, running 1-7June, we’re sharing stories from Octopus volunteers, showing the impact of our work within local communities. From helping people and organisations, to creating a feelgood factor for volunteers, it can be positive for everyone involved.
Volunteers are also often needed to shine a light on issues. For example, while much work has been done to highlight people’s struggles with mental health, many still find it hard to talk about it. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought mental health to the forefront, as many people live with increased anxiety.
Jayesh Vithlani, a compliance advisory manager at Octopus, feels strongly about this. He says, “Mental health is a matter close to my heart. It saddens me that a stigma still exists around it and that people, including my close friends, often suffer in silence. There shouldn’t be shame attached to difficulties with your mental wellbeing.”
Connecting through Octopus initiatives and partners
When Jay joined Octopus in 2018, he discovered that one of our partner charities then was Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). The charity focuses on helping men under the age of 45 who are at risk of suicide, currently the cause of 18 deaths a day in the UK. (Source: www.calmzone.com).
Since launching in 1997, CALM has grown to lead a movement against suicide, helping to support all those affected, and to raise awareness of the issue. It runs a free and confidential helpline and webchat, empowers everyone to share experiences through its community, and campaigns with media and brand partners.
Jay worked for CALM as a volunteer for a time, freeing up the busy team by taking on administration. Having seen that help was needed, afterwards he knew he wanted to do more.
Jay tapped into Octopus’s wellbeing initiative Anchor, a home for all things wellness. It’s there to ensure that everyone within our business can get support on their mental health. The Anchor has partnered with six services, all doing amazing work in this area.
Our people can connect with these services as part of looking after their wellbeing. And with most of The Anchor’s partners being charities, it also presents volunteering opportunities. This is one way in which people at Octopus can get into volunteering.
Charity partners and volunteering opportunities
One Anchor partner is mental health gym Sanctus. Offering at-work coaching sessions, it aims to change the way people think about mental health. Another partner, Cognacity, is also focused on helping to reduce work and performance-related stress. Its workshops and guidance run across workplaces, sport and education.
We are also a partner with Headspace, offering meditation sessions through its app, and helping people build resources to look after themselves. In response to COVID-19 it has been offering free access to its services.
Meanwhile ParentCloud is focused on supporting parents. Members of its community, including those at Octopus, can have consultations on aspects of family life and on balancing family with work. And Metlife delivers an Employee Assistance Programme as the largest provider in the UK. It supports employees dealing with anything from financial to health issues.
Volunteering for Shout
Another one of The Anchor’s charity partners is Shout, the UK’s first free 24/7 text service for people in crisis. People can turn to Shout when they are struggling and need help straightaway. The charity also uses its data to get insights into mental health in order to help change people’s lives for the better.
Providing a vital service, Shout is a huge source of support, and particularly in 2020. Volunteers are crucial to Shout’s work and it depends on them to operate. Jay found what he was looking for in Shout. Inspired by its work, earlier this year he committed to becoming a crisis volunteer.
This involved going through a long application process, and a six-week training programme. It dealt with subjects like suicide and self-harm and in Jay’s words was “a little hard going.” However, his work was worth it when he passed his final assessment, and was set for his first shift.
Jay admits that, “I was really nervous beforehand!” However, people were welcoming and he ended it having had three helpful conversations. He explains, “We’re not counsellors or therapists – but we’re there to talk to texters and help come up with coping strategies, or signpost them to useful resources. I was really tired afterwards, but it was very rewarding.”
Gaining deeper insights
Working for Shout has given Jay more insight into what people go through. He says, “It’s opened my eyes even further to the amount of unseen suffering. We can be mindful that we’re each dealing with our own struggles. We can also all play a part in people feeling enabled to speak without fear of judgement.”
Jay continues working for Shout. He says, “I’ve committed to 100 hours this year and hope to do a lot more! I want to apply my skills to helping people move from a moment of ‘crisis to cool’.
It’s also important to Jay that we all become more open and active around mental health issues. He says, “I’m hoping that people reading this will be inspired to discuss their mental health with friends, family and services like Shout, or even to volunteer for Shout and other charities.”