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We want everyone to feel the difference with new mental health initiative in North Kent

Podiatrist Charlie lives with Bipolar Disorder, and has set up a mental health initiative in our organisation, which goes above and beyond to promote positive wellbeing in the work environment.

Already available to our employees are several wellbeing tools, including an Employee Assistance Programme which offers online self-help resources and talking therapies with independent, trained counsellors; online wellbeing tools and activities where colleagues can assess their overall wellbeing and set goals to make positive changes. All of this is accessible to employees online, where they can also access exercise videos, healthy recipes and other resources to support the development of a positive and resilient mind-set. Development of more training courses are also underway, current courses available include positive psychology, mental health self-awareness and mental health awareness for managers.

The new VirgIncredible initiative compliments the existing wellbeing offer and aims to give employees based within North Kent services physical tools geared towards making the work environment a place for open and positive conversation, reinforcing the importance of mental wellbeing.

Charlie decided to make a positive change by launching the project. She secured funding for VirgIncredible by applying to our Feel the Difference fund, a £100,000-a-year pot of money which employees can apply for if they have an idea that will create a better experience for colleagues or service users.

Charlie said, “VirgIncredible was created as we want all staff to feel great within the workplace. As an organisation, we already have access to some amazing online support tools, and VirgIncredible adds to this by providing physical resources available in the workplace setting with a personalised edge. We are very proud to care for all of our service users, but it’s important we care for ourselves to sustain this.

“My Bipolar Disorder has been challenging to manage over the years, but one thing that has been beneficial for me is a positive and understanding work space. We are tailoring self-care boxes for those facing difficulties in this challenging time. We are creating VIP Spaces, or ‘wobble rooms’, equipped with bean bag chairs, light projectors and books so that staff have access to a safe space to go to during the work day de-stress and unwind. By creating this positive space, we’re opening the dialogue and letting colleagues know that they can confide in one another with confidence.”

Charlie continued, “New research by the University of Oxford and NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre has found that people who experience COVID have a 20% more chance of struggling with their mental health, and 65% of people with existing mental health conditions are more likely to contract COVID.

“This project aims to lessen the pressures of mental health, promote good practice, reduce stigma and promote positivity, which will ultimately benefit employees and service users.”

Allocated champions will deliver wellbeing activities within team meetings to encourage open and supportive discussions. The self-care boxes available to staff, which can include anxiety journals, mental health, colouring and origami books and toiletries, are specified based on individual needs, with items helping to combat issues such as stress, anxiety or bereavement.

Patrick Birchall, our Managing Director in North Kent said, “This is an incredible initiative that will allow us to create a positive and open dialogue within our services. Strong and stable wellbeing is important in providing efficient services, increasing the quality of care and reducing any potential delays in treatment.

“Mental health and wellbeing can often be overlooked, especially with the pressures we face today, but I’m proud of our colleagues for developing this project and for taking such an encouraging step. It’s easy to look online for our wellbeing support, but to have physical support and resources in the work setting will make a difference for all.”

VirgIncredible is a complementary initiative for wellbeing. We offer all of our colleagues a full occupational health service alongside additional wellbeing tools, access to an employee assistance programme and apps such as Headspace and “MyWellness” and has added additional support for colleagues over the course of the pandemic.

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