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#endthestigma: Mental Health Awareness Week at BP's ICBT

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, BP’s ICBT Mental Wellbeing Network hosted a panel event looking at a range of mental health issues, including the Mental Health Foundation’s 2019 theme of body image
Mental awareness week at the ICBT
The event, held at BP’s International Centre for Business & Technology (ICBT) campus was organized by Celia Nowak, who leads the ICBT’s Mental Wellbeing Network – an employee group, set up in early 2018.

“We are a group of people with a shared passion for mental wellbeing and organize communications and events to promote good mental wellbeing, signpost support and destigmatize the topic,” said Nowak.

The event was an interactive discussion during which Ian Connell (piping designer, Air BP), Bobbi Pickard (project manager, IT&S) and James Cray (HR VP, Upstream) shared their stories and reflections on mental health issues.

“One of the most effective ways to destigmatise mental health is to talk about it, to share our own stories of our mental health challenges,” Nowak explained. “[At the event] one colleague talked about her transgender journey, another about his battle with depression and a third shared his experience of Post-Traumatic Stress disorder.”

As well as coinciding with Mental Health Awareness Week, the ICBT event was launched under the banner of the “This is Me” campaign. Led by the Lord Mayor’s Appeal, “This is Me” is a London wide initiative that is designed to destigmatize mental health in the workplace.

 

The mental wellbeing of BP’s employees and prospective employees is something the company takes very seriously. Just over a year ago, BP launched its Wellbeing Charter and signed the Time to Change Employer Pledge.

 

“We have a range of support mechanisms in place for anyone with an accessibility or mental health need” said Nowak.

 

These include:

  • The Employee Assistance Programme: BP employees have access to free, confidential and independent advice and practical support to help them manage issues of concern either in the work place or at home.
  • StressTools: A product provided by the Keil Centre in the UK. StressTools can help managers to identify the causes of work stress.  Following this exercise, the Keil Centre can then work with managers and teams to put in place solutions.
  • Wellness Checkpoint: an online, self-assessment tool that helps employees make proactive and informed decisions to improve their health and wellbeing.
  • Support groups and online communities: BP has many Business Resource Groups (BRGs) – employee formed and led constituencies that champion and celebrate diversity and inclusion in the organization and lend peer to peer support. As well as a lively face to face communities, most if not all BRGs operate online forums for their members hosted on Yammer (BP’s internal communications platform).

Bobbi Pickard is a Consultant Senior Project Manager working on the End of Service Life Program at BP. In addition, she is also Co-Chair of the BP Pride Transgender Group, which, by her own admission, are two full time jobs! Bobbi was one of the panellists at the ICBT event. 

Her involvement on the panel was a natural progression; Bobbi was arranging a large multicompany event being held at BP's Canada Square office to, as she says, "to celebrate and educate around Transgender and Mental Wellbeing." 

"As part of that we reached out to the BP Mental Health Well Being BRG to see if they’d like to be involved in the event. We’re now working closely together," she said.

"Being transgender isn’t a mental illness but the way that transgender people are treated in society, not being allowed to be transgender in effect, causes so many mental issues for transgender individuals whether depression, self harming or suicide."

Bobbi runs the BP Pride Transgender workgroup with close friend and colleague Freddie Cormack. “It’s something very close to my heart,” Bobbi said. “I’ve never known such a passionate, dedicated, caring and driven group of individuals, all of them volunteers and spending significant amounts of their own time, without reward, to improve BP’s working environment and standing in the wider community.”

The support Bobbi has received from the group goes beyond her day to day experiences at work. “To really understand how BP Pride and the Transgender Working Group has helped me, you have to understand the difference it’s made to my life,” she explains. “I’ve spent almost all my life not being able to be who I am, hiding the real me, knowing that I wasn’t accepted and that society thought people like me were freaks or perverts.”

Living with that kind of unfair stigma obviously took its toll. “In mid-2017 I wasn’t personally in a good place,” Bobbi admits.  “I’d recently almost killed myself and looking back I wasn’t anywhere near over that; I had constant thoughts of suicide - I had throughout my life. I had unbelievably low self-esteem, no confidence, no self-worth; frankly I didn’t want to exist anymore and I didn’t want to leave any evidence that I ever had.”

Stories like Bobbi’s are why the Mental Health Foundation chose body image as its theme for 2019. But with her self-esteem at an all-time low, Bobbi found strength in her work community. “Then I joined BP Pride,” she said. “I didn’t even tell them I was transgender at first - I knew by late 2017 that I needed to either transition or get on with the suicide business.”

But, over time, Bobbi felt more comfortable with her colleagues. “I’d come out to Chris Moody (lead business analyst) and Stella Pope and they helped me so much,” she explains “The final jigsaw piece came when I told Simon Hodgkinson (chief information security officer) – someone I’d known for many years. I know talking to him now that he was surprised but instantly provided such unconditional support and reassurance that it simply lifted any last doubts from my mind.”

Now Bobbi helps other people within BP and beyond. “It was a result of Stella, Simon and Chris’ support and later Angela, Freddie, Charlie and so many others that I’ve been able to be me and more importantly tell people about it. The Transgender Working Group have pushed transgender awareness forward in BP – and I know we’ve made a difference to lots of other people’s lives as well.

What it’s done for me is give me confidence, it’s made me feel I’m worth something and given me a future I thought I’d never have. It’s given me, me.Bobbi Pickard,co-chair of the BP Pride transgender group
If you have been affected by what you have read or would like support with similar challenges, you can find support in at Mind, "Give us a Shout" and the Samaritans