Alexandra Stewart is a member of the People and Performance Team in Restless Development’s London office. This blog was written as part of Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, 11th – 17th May 2015.

The statistics relating to mental health and wellbeing in the UK are shocking. One in four people will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime. Over 11 million working days were lost due to stress, anxiety or depression in 2015, costing the British economy an estimated £100 billion. One in ten young people suffer from a significant mental health disorder – that’s three children in every classroom.

And these figures relate to the UK alone, with statistics coming out of countries in the Global South no less worrying. In Tanzania, for example, of the 2.5 million people estimated to suffer from mental health illnesses, only 20% have access to mental health services. In Uganda, with a population of over 34 million, the country has only 32 psychiatrists. Mental health, and the need to prioritise services, support and information, is a global issue which needs to be addressed, both in personal and professional environments.

We are proud of the work we do as an organisation to support communities and young people with their mental health and wellbeing, as well as an employer to our global employee base of over 300 staff.

In the recent Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, over 1,700 young volunteers have led a programme of community mobilisation to support communities to prevent the spread of the disease. This involves providing essential psychosocial support to communities and survivors and their family and friends in the wake of a traumatic and disruptive disease.

In Nepal, after a large earthquake affecting a number of regions we work in, we immediately started working with UNICEF Nepal to support the wellbeing of children and young people in the wake of such a devastating event.

As an employer, we work hard to provide a safe, happy and healthy environment for our staff and volunteers to work in.  For immediate support, we provide access to a twenty four hour confidential helpline which all staff can access to discuss any wellbeing issues. We also offer a flexible working policy and the option to work at home as well as ongoing support through a comprehensive performance management system focussing on professional and personal development.

However some of our simplest and most exciting wellbeing initiatives are led by staff themselves, recognising staff can be the champions of their own wellbeing too. In Uganda we have the ‘Smile Club’ where a group of staff join together to plan events for the office. In the UK we are part of the popular London Charity Softball League which is a weekly opportunity to play sport and socialise with colleagues and partner organisations.

But we can do more, both as an organisation and a sector. We recognise the unique pressures that come from working within the charity sector and are looking into more ways we can support staff globally to maintain a positive work-life balance, from reviewing our remuneration policies to how we can reduce pressure and stress on staff. We hope that in the future statistics relating to mental health are less shocking; until then we will continue to focus on the mental health and wellbeing of our staff, knowing the positive impact this will ultimately have on the young people we work with and for.

Mental Health Awareness Week, led by the Mental Health Foundation on 11th – 17th May 2015, aims to encourage the conversation around mental health to fight discrimination and stigma and promote good mental wellbeing. This year the theme is on mindfulness, and the benefits this practice can offer to mental health and wellbeing.

If you want to join an organisation like this, check the jobs section of our website where we advertise all of our global vacancies. 

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