bp's Charlie Wheeler is one of many ‘mental health champions’ supporting a company-wide drive to get people talking this World Mental Health Day (WMHD).
Our social media specialist will join colleagues in sharing his own experiences of mental health at events where employees can debate whether mental health discriminates, hear from in-house experts on the signs of burnout and, at their leisure, enjoy free access to online meditation sessions.
Charlie Wheeler, a social media specialist at bp, is an advocate of using personal experience as a way to open up the conversation about mental health.
He says: “I think people talking more openly about mental health is having a knock-on effect in a really positive way. A few months ago, I was on a call with lots of people and I mentioned that I couldn’t do the next call because I was having counselling, and someone messaged me after the meeting and said: ‘Wow, I’d never say something like that. I’d make up some excuse to cover up the fact I was having counselling. You’ve inspired me to be more open about my own mental health.'
"It was great to hear. I really think change is happening.”
The WMHD events are taking place over one week but are part of a bigger 10-year plan ̶ with aims and targets attached. The end goal is to banish any stigma around mental wellbeing in bp and beyond and create an environment in the company where all staff can feel comfortable about reaching out for the support on offer.
Why the focus on mental health?
As CEO Bernard Looney says: “The amount of energy that we all spend dealing with all of this stuff in our heads that we’re worried about; if we could help release that and have it be ok to not be ok (which of course it is!), imagine the energy that we’d release for people to be able to collaborate and get on with their jobs and focus on the things we want them to focus on!”
The issue of mental health has added resonance after another pandemic year of uncertainty and emotional challenge. One in four people will suffer with mental health issues over the course of their life and this has been amplified by the global pandemic.
There is still much stigma surrounding mental health. People struggle, often in silence, to find the support they need.
bp is looking to change this.
To help us achieve our aim, the company has developed a number of support tools led by a team of in-house health professionals.
“We’ve been on a journey,” says Dr James Mackie, senior manager (mental health) at bp. “While bp has always recognized the importance of mental health, like many other organizations, we haven’t talked about it very much. We openly talk about physical health or ill health, so why shouldn’t we talk about mental health? We now recognize the need to open up the conversation more to mental health. This is good for the organization and all of us.”
Burnout has come to the fore since the pandemic and is central to this year’s WMHD with special sessions entitled ‘Burnout – spotting the signs and staying healthy’ led by bp psychologist Mandy Rutter, along with Dr Mackie. The aim is to learn more about this occupational phenomenon, how to spot the signs, how to support those who are struggling, and how to prevent it happening.
“Burnout is often seen as a weakness, or a sign that somebody can’t handle pressure, but by talking about it and supporting staff, we’ve started to shift the way that we look at this. This is a start,” says James.
The question of whether mental health discriminates is another theme. bp’s mental wellbeing network and PEN (Positively Ethnic Network) are hosting a live panel discussion marking both Black History Month and WMHD.
This week also sees an ITN and Mental Health UK digital programme air, in which bp employees, including our CEO Bernard, are interviewed about the importance of supporting workplace mental health and how to practically do so.
The week affords a chance to highlight the value of using lived experience to tackle mental health stigma in the workplace.
bp is supporting a video project on the theme through the Global Business Collaboration for Better Workplace Mental Health, where it collaborates with other corporates, NGOs and academics to advocate for, and accelerate, positive change for mental health in the workplace.
And, says bp’s chief medical officer, Dr Richard Heron, the benefits reach far beyond the individual: “When leaders demonstrate a culture of care, employees report better wellbeing, we see good safety performance, better retention, higher engagement and satisfaction scores – all positively influence business performance.”