As part of recognising Small Charity Week, every day this week we are casting a spotlight on a different charity we support. Today is the turn of an initiative that is part of the wider fantastic charitable work done by the Lord Mayor’s Appeal (LMA) team. Under the strapline ”A better city for all”, the team promotes and supports a whole range of different charities and initiatives, all of which come within the four key strands of building a city that is fair, inclusive, healthy and skilled.
This year, celebrating its fifth year, the This is Me campaign is a major part of the wider programme. It began as an initiative within Barclays who very kindly gifted it to LMA and have continued to support it ever since, alongside Barclays’ wider support of LMA. At its heart is the simple power of story telling. When we tell someone something of ourselves or our experience we create a human, emotional connection. We also give the other person the permission to talk to us about that experience and in so doing we break down the stigma that may surround the subject matter. Very often something else quite magical happens – although we weren’t expecting it, we realise how much we have in common with each other, as opposed to focusing on what separates us.
Mental illness is not something we used to talk about. The silence bred shame, and fear and stigma. And as with so many things, the longer it went on the greater the stigma and shame, and the worse the offensive banter, in playgrounds, pubs and workplaces. We got used to thinking (to the extent we thought about it at all) that mental illness was something that happened to other people – and often they weren’t very nice people, or very safe people, or very normal people – or so our fear and the silence told us. And of course if someone did experience mental illness, the last thing they would do is admit it to anyone else, and probably not even to themselves. And so they suffered in silence and that made their suffering worse.
This is Me gives people the permission and platform to tell their story, often through films but in many other ways to - simple stories that say in their different ways that I am normal, just like you, and I am someone who has experienced, or continues to live with, mental illness, and I am not someone to be scared of and my illness is nothing to be ashamed of. The films are inspirational – you can see examples, and more information about the campaign, on the website here. You can also search against This is Me and Barclays, or PwC, or CMS or the Bank of England or countless other organisations that have both made films and shared them publicly.
I have been involved with This is Me since its adoption by LMA and for the last couple of years have been proud to co-chair the steering committee with Paulette Cohen from Barclays. Over the years we have added two additional strands to the campaign:
· The green ribbon campaign which is about getting as many people as possible
to wear a green ribbon as a symbol of their openness to a discussion about
mental illness and their support for those that suffer; and
· Wellbeing in the workplace which is a toolkit developed in conjunction with the Samaritans to provide training for people in workplaces to listen to and support each other more effectively.
The story telling, however, remains the core and we know from the work the team does to measure the impact of engaging with the programme that story telling has the biggest impact in terms of changing the culture within an organisation. A moment that brought home just how powerful the initiative can be was when I was asked to chair an event at the Mansion House a couple of years ago, amid the splendour of that building and with 200+ of the great and good of the city in attendance. As part of the programme for the event, a junior partner from a big 4 accountancy practice told his story of mental illness and recovery. It occurred to me that had he been doing that a very few years earlier there would likely have been an embarrassed silence, the rest of us looking at our shoes or the agenda in our hand while his HR team took him away. As it was, as a result of the power of this campaign, this man was inspiring us all.
And it is that progress which is most encouraging. The campaign has spread throughout the UK and to different parts of the world. At the end of this year we have set ourselves the target of having 1,280 organisations registered, with a third of them telling stories and reaching a possible 3.8 million employees.
We know it works to reduce stigma, change the narrative around mental illness and change lives. If you are wondering what your organisation can do around mental health, if you haven’t done so yet, think about the This is Me campaign. It is free to get involved and even producing a film can be done on the tightest of budgets, with just a smart phone and some editing software. The website has stacks of useful resources.
To celebrate the fifth anniversary we are holding a global summit on the morning of 26 October. Details are being finalised and will be released shortly but, as well as a chance to celebrate the success so far, the event is intended to inspire the next generation of storytellers – might you or your organisation be among them? We would love to help you do that. We might just find we have something in common.
Finally, a shout out to the people who make the work happen, Caroline Wright, Robyn Vernon-Harcourt, Emily Pike, Alison Haier, Ella Kennedy from LMA and some of their predecessors, Rose Grissell, Katie Yates and Javed Thomas.