Our mental health meet ups and why they matter

Mental health problems affect around 1 in 4 people in the UK each year according to the latest stats from Mind. In England, 1 in 6 people say they’ve experienced a common mental health problem, such as anxiety and depression, in any given week.

This week is mental health awareness week so it seems like a good time to talk about how we’ve been supporting each other at Co-op Digital.

Opening up

Getting people to talk is something I’ve been encouraging people to do here for a little while now. Since September last year, I’ve been running a mental health meet up.

I set up the group after finding that opening up about my experience with anxiety helped me. I also noticed that friends and colleagues I’d spoken to would often then open up to me and say things like, “I’ve never talked about this with anyone before”. That’s not good. I wanted to change that. So, twice a month a group of us have been meeting to talk about all issues relating to mental health.

A safe place to speak

I knew the most important thing for anyone who came to the meet ups would be knowing that anything they said would be confidential and for them to feel they were among empathetic people who understood. This way they could talk freely.

So our meet ups started out small and very informal. Everyone was welcome but I didn’t want to risk opening up the group to spectators, which would be easily done in an organisation as big as ours, so I didn’t involve HR.

No minutes, no register, no pressure.

At the meet ups

We hold the 1-hour meet ups on site because it’s hard to find a safe space off site. Doing it on site also means it’s in the open and makes it as accessible for people as possible. There’s no pressure to come to every session. Come when you want to.

Sometimes, we have an agenda but most meetings start with people saying how they’re doing. Then we talk. Loneliness, depression, isolation, medicine, stress, sex, relationships – no topic is off limits. Some like to talk a lot and some don’t like to talk much, and that’s ok. Whatever works for them.

This is a place where you can come to feel reassured you’re not alone, and a place you can let others know that they’re not alone either.

A few guidelines

To keep people safe in the meet ups, we have a set of guidelines that we stick to.

Photograph shows 5 post it notes. 1 says "guidelines" the other 4 have one guideline on each.

  1. Everything said during meet ups is confidential.
  2. There’s no need to apologise for how you feel.
  3. Instead of advice, offer personal experience. Ask, “Can I tell you what I’ve done in a similar situation?”
  4. Try to speak openly. The more we do that, the more we can remove the stigma around talking about our mental health.

Learning as we go

I regularly ask the group how they think the meetings are going. This cycle of feedback means I can continually iterate and do what’s right for the group. In the early days, I learnt that even though what we talk about may be hard and people might feel sad, the meet ups shouldn’t just be a place to be sad together.

To prevent that happening, we try and end on a positive note. We’ll look at a feel-good article or a funny YouTube video or Twitter account. Just something that helps people leave feeling more positive.

In the future

The group has gone from strength to strength and we’re keen for it to become an even stronger support network. We’re throwing around ideas about how we could help more people. At the moment, we don’t know the answers so we’d like to hear from you.

If you’re a Co-op colleague, let us know what you’d like to see. We’d also like to hear how other organisations help their staff. You can leave a comment below (anonymous if you like), or email tom.walker@coopdigital.co.uk

Mental health is a big deal and is often an unseen issue. It affects so many of us and workplaces need to give their colleagues the time to build stable and useful support networks.

Tom Walker
User researcher

Co-op employees, we meet every second and fourth Thursday of the month at 12 noon in Federation House. I post reminders in the #general Slack channel a few days before.

16 thoughts on “Our mental health meet ups and why they matter

  1. David Kirby (Strategy) May 8, 2017 / 9:58 am

    Tom – have you connected with the work sanctus are doing? might be worth a connection as they a start up looking to learn [you may have more to tell them than the other way around?]

    good stuff


    • Tom Walker May 8, 2017 / 10:09 am

      Hi Dave. I have seen the work they have been doing at it looks good. Now that this blog is live, I will get in touch with them and see if they’d like to chat more.


  2. Lisa O'Hare May 8, 2017 / 1:06 pm

    This is an amazing initiative Tom.
    Can any co-op employee sign up to the Slack channel?


    • Tom Walker May 8, 2017 / 2:18 pm

      Hi Lisa. If you’re on Co-op Digital Slack already, you should be able to see the general channel. There is also a private channel for those that have attended the meetings, I send out invites after coming along. The meet ups are open to anyone who would like to attend.


    • David May 9, 2017 / 7:41 am

      Good stuff Tom. Well done for getting this going.

      I’ve recently written an article for my organisation (a big civil service department) about my experience with stress and depression – expecting it to be published internally any day now. It’s not easy stepping into the open and admitting you have a mental health issues, but the more we do it, the easier it will be for others.

      Hiding in the shadows, feeling ashamed, rarely solves anything.

      You mention a Slack channel. I’m guessing it’s for Co Op staff only? Any thoughts about opening it more widely?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Leanne O'Mara May 8, 2017 / 2:30 pm

    Fantastic idea, well done for getting it set up.


  4. Claire Gallagher May 8, 2017 / 8:47 pm

    This is great Tom 🙂


  5. Maggie McTernan May 9, 2017 / 8:50 am

    This is great, Tom – I have issues with anxiety, and I know how important it has been for me to talk about it with non professional people.

    One question – I worked as a social worker for many years, and we always made the caveat to confidentiality that if someone said they were going to hurt themselves or someone else, this could not be kept confidential. Have you discussed as a group where your line is, and if there’s anything you would not feel able to keep confidential?


    • Tom Walker May 9, 2017 / 10:48 am

      Hi Maggie. That’s a great question and I’m glad someone has asked it.

      Our plan is if something like that was to happen, that person would be directed to help immediately without delay.

      If you have suggestions or could offer advice on this, I’d love to hear it.


  6. Victoria February 3, 2018 / 1:44 pm

    Hi, I’ve tried to send an email to Tom about this to see if its just coop digital or all coop colleagues but the email failed?

    Is this still going on?


    • simonhurstcoop March 9, 2018 / 8:23 am

      Hi Victoria, are you still interested in finding out more on this? I can share my email as Tom has left Co-op now.


    • simonhurstcoop March 9, 2018 / 8:26 am

      Hi Victoria, are you still interested in finding out more on this? I can share my email as Tom has left Co-op now.


      • Catharine April 4, 2018 / 2:08 pm

        Hi Simon, I was talking to a colleague about this group recently, as I remember seeing it promoted. If it is still going on could you send me your details so I can pass on? Much appreciated. Catharine.devereux@coop.co.uk


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