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Marking World Mental Health Day at GDS

Mental Health posters saying "Its ok to ask for help", "Its ok to not be ok" and "Its ok to talk about mental health".
Some of the Mental Health Network posters around GDS

Today is World Mental Health Day and at the Government Digital Service (GDS) we’re joining in with a number of activities to break down taboos and raise awareness of the support and information available to colleagues.

We’ll be starting the day with a wellness breakfast - run in conjunction with the Black Asian Minority Ethnic network - and we’re teaming up with the GDS fitness club to promote the importance of exercise for good mental health.

In the afternoon we’re hosting a mental health discussion (with tea and cakes). People will also be able to buy green ribbons to raise money and awareness for the Mental Health Foundation.

The Mental Health Network at GDS

At the 2016 GDS unconference, staff decided a mental health related network would be a good idea. So we formed a working group to create the network and coordinate activities.

We want GDS to have great collective mental health and be an even better place to work. We take a user-centred approach to the network, seeking to understand the needs of our colleagues and to provide a network that can help meet them.

We want to help colleagues get the information and support they need. We’re here to help give voice to their mental health related questions and concerns.

It’s not an easy task. There’s still a lot of stigma around mental health. A particular challenge, not unique to this topic, is that colleagues’ involvement is often private, sensitive and invisible. It’s hard to measure what we do.

Even so, our network does a range of activities, including:

  • online Q&A events, where colleagues (anonymously, if they like) suggest and vote for  topics. Afterwards, we capture, anonymise and store all questions and replies in a Google document that anyone can access as an ongoing resource.
  • weekly picnics for colleagues to meet up, discuss the network and share their experiences or just their lunch!
  • a new starter survey to learn more about the mental health challenges of being a newcomer at GDS
  • events - we invite speakers into GDS, such as Gavin Elliot from the Department of Work and Pensions, who gave a really powerful talk about Imposter Syndrome - the persistent fear of “being found out” or of “being exposed as a fraud” in the workplace
  • cinema trips and quiz nights

We’ve also appointed David Dilley, GDS’s Deputy Director of Digital, as our new champion. He says the network has helped him personally and he hopes to, in turn, now help others:

“It’s been through the work of the mental health network and the openness of others at GDS and the Cabinet Office that I’ve gradually (very gradually to be honest!) been able to be more open and honest about my own mental health.”

Read more about the Mental Health Network's principles.

Member feedback

These quotes from some of our members tell us the network is really valuable to lots of people:

In the years I've been at GDS the thing that’s helped me immensely is the good, kind people it has - especially in the Mental Health Network. I noticed it most in the Slack channel it runs, where people were communicating and being open about their own struggles. That encouraged me to open up too and also help others. It's invaluable. It's led me to finding good friends and getting the extra support I needed such as long term therapy.” - Anonymous

“I feel incredibly proud that GDS has a place where staff can talk openly and honestly about mental health. It makes me feel supported to be my whole self and more importantly, to learn about how my colleagues and friends look after their own mental health. The resources, tools and tips we all share help every single one of us.” - Anonymous

“Without the support and understanding of my colleagues when I was struggling, I wouldn't have been able to support them when they needed help.” - Anonymous

If you work at GDS you can find mental health information and resources on the wiki. Just search for ‘mental health network’ or visit the #network-mental-health channel on GDS’s Slack.

You can access resources on mental health by visiting Mind, CALM (for preventing male suicide) and if you’re into podcasts, Blurtitout.

Helen Nickols is a senior content designer and Ben Carpenter is the lead of Inclusive Services at GDS. They are co-leads of the Mental Health Network.

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  1. Comment by Alan Rider, DfT Digital Capability Lead posted on

    Great post! This is so important and when I was at GDS I always felt it was a place I could be open and honest and that I would always have the support of a great bunch of colleagues (which included Ben!). In DfT we have a brilliant level of support for Mental Health awareness and it is so good that this issue is really coming to the forefront now across Government.

    • Replies to Alan Rider, DfT Digital Capability Lead>

      Comment by Ben posted on

      Thanks Alan, and good to hear DfT is talking about mental health too.

  2. Comment by Jenny Mulholland posted on

    This is great. Thank you for sharing. We're just setting up our own mental health network at Softwire and it's great to get some ideas of what others are doing in this area.

    • Replies to Jenny Mulholland>

      Comment by Ben posted on

      That's great, hope it goes well at Softwire too. It's something we should all be able to talk about.