1. Home
  2. News and insights
  3. Reimagining energy
  4. UK Mental Health Awareness Week

It’s good to talk

Release date:
18 May 2020
Mental wellbeing isn’t just something to focus on during times of crisis, such as the current pandemic; it affects us all to a certain extent every day. To mark UK Mental Health Awareness Week, bp magazine talks to five employees about the challenges they’ve faced and how they are using those experiences to help others

Millions of people around the world have experienced mental health issues at some point in their lives. And with the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the world, it’s estimated that millions more of us are finding it difficult to cope. 


That’s why bp is taking action. In April, we made one of our largest-ever charitable donations to UK mental health charity Mind and, separately, introduced new ways to help our people manage their mental wellbeing. In addition, both chairman Helge Lund and chief executive officer Bernard Looney are giving 20% of their salaries for the rest of this year to mental health charities. 


Bernard says: “I am continually struck by the amount of things people are dealing with every day – life stuff. And it’s usually tough stuff. I have learned never to make assumptions about people. Everyone is dealing with something. We have to really enquire about our friends, colleagues and family. ‘How are you? I’m fine’ isn’t enough. ‘How are you really?’ Let’s get to know people better. And be prepared to listen.


“Life is extremely complex and COVID-19 has turbo charged that,” he adds. “Not everyone will be infected by the virus, but everyone will be affected by it.”

 

“Life is extremely complex, and COVID-19 has turbo charged that. Not everyone will be infected by the virus, but everyone will be affected by it.”

 

Bernard Looney, bp chief executive

 


But, he’s not the only one in bp passionate about the subject. To mark UK Mental Health Awareness Week, bp magazine spoke to five members of our mental wellbeing network to find out a little more about their experiences and why they are champions for the cause. 

Kirsty Parker

In 2019, Kirsty reached her breaking point. After months of being overwhelmed at work and a busy mum, she had a breakdown. She was then off work for six months. She has since returned to bp in a new role with wellbeing at its heart

“When I returned to work, it was important to talk about what had happened to me and to look for ways of stopping this from happening to others. Wellbeing in bp is focused on preventing individuals from becoming ill and there is a wealth of resources to help them be proactive. Unfortunately, people are still experiencing poor mental health, though, so we need to do more so that people feel comfortable saying they need help. 


“As wellbeing lead in bp’s global projects organization, I am running a pilot project to introduce ‘wellbeing focal points’ – naturally empathetic, kind and caring people who can support individuals.

 

“The idea is that they look out for team members, spot when someone might be struggling and offer to talk informally as a first step, signposting the help that is available. Sometimes, that’s all you need. 

 

“If someone asks you for help – please listen. Listen better than you’ve ever listened before, because for that person it’s hard, emotional and they may be in a dark place. How you respond to their first sentence is key – please be kind.”

Aine Costelloe

Aine first experienced mental health challenges during a posting to Norway with another multinational firm. Since then, she has been a passionate advocate for mental health issues and is an original member of bp’s mental wellbeing network

“In Norway, I was the company’s youngest project manager ever hired, foreign and female – I had everything to prove and I burned myself out doing it. 

 

“A few years later, after I’d joined bp, I found out that a wellbeing network was being formed at one of our UK offices. I got involved straight away. I’m a strong believer in peer-to-peer support and I now train other mental wellbeing champions. One of my favourite things is having pure, unfiltered conversations about mental health in a corporate environment.


“Because of my business continuity background, I was asked to join bp’s intelligence, security and crisis COVID-19 response team. I also had to decide whether to stay in the UK or return to my family in Trinidad and Tobago. That was a stressful conversation but, in the end, I decided to stay and use my strengths to make a difference. I’ve seen such a positive change in the way people talk to and treat each other since the start of 2020.


“I’ve finished my rotation and am now working with my boss to drive the wellbeing agenda in bp’s group technology function. I feel like I’m being paid to share my passion.”

Nick Poltorak 

Nick first became aware of his mental health about 10 years ago, after a series of stressful circumstances, including the death of his father, hit him all at once. Now, like many other people, he is juggling home working with homeschooling, while trying to protect his elderly mother during the COVID-19 pandemic

“I saw a post on Facebook the other day that said: ‘What a long year this week feels.’ I can identify with that. There’s this need to be responsive to everything at the same time, which I’ve found difficult at times. But, it’s also been rewarding to spend more time with the children. 


“One of the biggest things I’ve learned is not to put the pressure on. In the first few weeks, I was very formal about workspace, but kids don’t wait for you to finish meetings when they want something. 


“It’s been difficult with Mum as she’s in a care home, but I’ve been researching family history and writing a few stories, which the staff have read to her. That’s helped us to stay connected. 


“I find getting up earlier than the kids and walking to the hill near my house to watch the sunrise is helping. Sometimes, it feels like the birds are singing just for me. At work, our mental wellbeing network has run virtual ‘huddles’, where we get to together to share how we’re feeling – positive and negative. That’s been helpful. 


“Talking about mental health is a sign of strength and will make us a more open, inclusive company. I strongly believe it will encourage more open conversations about other important aspects of our business and make us stronger.” 

Jennifer Pierce

Jennifer’s first mental health breakdown occurred at university and led to hospitalization. Only her closest family and friends knew. She was later advised by a professional mentor to keep quiet to avoid ruining her career. It was advice she took to heart for 25 years

“I became a master at covering my personal issues while building a successful career. Every time I left a company or job, I said it was for family reasons. As a woman, this was an acceptable response, especially as I was always quite open about my son’s mental health issues, if not my own. 


“Things began to change in 2019 when I attended a townhall at our offices in Canary Wharf. When the business leader hosting it uttered the words ‘suicide’ and ‘mental health’ the trading floor fell silent. She then introduced three members of a new group called the mental wellbeing network who spoke about their experiences and invited others to join. I was stunned; the time had finally come. 


“I have since become an active member and come full circle in my career. I feel completely fulfilled that an issue that has plagued me for more than 25 years is no longer a secret I must keep. I could not be prouder to be at bp at this pivotal moment in time.” 

Dominic Gardham

An extrovert by nature, Dominic began to feel isolated about a year into a new job and found himself starting to worry that he wasn’t good enough, with fear rising that he might lose everything he’d worked for – family, friends, home, even savings

“Initially, I tried to keep a lid on it, even though I was an active member of the mental wellbeing network, but realized I wasn’t doing the network, or myself, any justice. A network colleague suggested we should try things ourselves to encourage others, so I thought, I’ll try the counselling service. I ended up working with a dedicated therapist and found I was able to express myself again.

 

“Before lockdown, I was also able to reconnect with my love of horse riding – that close connection with an animal and the realization that I could ride to a good standard was a big turning point in my recovery.


“The support from the network and my therapist have been nothing short of amazing. I’ve found that people are now confiding in me, asking me about the process. It’s helped to normalize things. 


The subject is opening up in bp, but authenticity is crucial. You have to give a bit of yourself to help others share.” 

Subscribe to our email for the latest stories in energy, technology and engineering, direct to your inbox...