For this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, we asked three people from our Mental Health Allies network to share their personal stories.
Almost all of us are impacted by mental health issues, either directly or via the people who are close to us. That’s why at Accenture we are building a culture of belonging and connection—a safe environment where everyone can talk openly about their mental health.
Through the Mental Health Allies, a network launched in 2015 that now comprises almost 3,500 people in the UK & Ireland, Accenture employees can reach out to trained colleagues to talk about how they are feeling and seek help. This support ensures that people not only get back on their feet but also thrive, reaching their full potential.
“We want all of our people to feel safe, seen and connected,” says Jill Hughes, MD Accenture Interactive and Executive Sponsor Mental Health Accenture UKI. “It’s good for individuals, it helps our teams and communities to prosper and it’s good for the work that we do for our clients.”
She adds: “Inclusion and diversity are at the core of Accenture’s beliefs, and to be truly inclusive, you need to recognise that people bring their whole selves into the work they do. Being open, honest, and supportive is important for us all to thrive. We want to make it more acceptable to say ‘I need some help’ or ‘It’s not a good day for me’.”
For this year’s national Mental Health Awareness Week, Accenture is exploring how creating a sense of belonging and connecting can combat feelings of loneliness and isolation. Below, three Accenture people share their mental health stories, and the impact the Mental Health Allies network has had on their lives.
I moved to the UK from New Zealand a week before the first lockdown to be with my then-boyfriend. Trying to find a job and a flat was very difficult during the absolute mayhem that was the beginning of Covid, and I really, really struggled. I’d never been away from my family before, let alone being stuck inside, trying to start a relationship, in a different country. I was acutely homesick. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so lonely.
Eventually, I found a job, but making friends was tricky because everything was shut. That didn’t help; friendship and connection are super important to me. There were these little pockets of intense isolation throughout those two years, and everything self-combusted last December. My boyfriend and I broke up, I was living alone over Christmas and these other big life events happened. It intensified the feeling of loneliness.
I had joined Accenture by this point and became a Mental Health Ally during my first few weeks. I made the decision to talk to someone and get support, which was super helpful. Reaching out to someone is a really brave first step. It’s hard talking to a complete stranger. I’ve been there. But Accenture’s Mental Health Allies are not there to counsel people, they’re there to offer support. They find the right resources and point people in the right direction.
We need to normalise asking for help. It was hard telling my parents I was having mental-health issues. I was really nervous about it, but they were totally fine. They said they were proud of me. I don’t think it should be any different in the workplace. It’s normal and healthy to say, ‘I’m not okay. Can I talk to someone about it?’ That person might be a Mental Health Ally, a career counsellor, or a friend. It’s so important to bring that authentic ‘you’ to the workplace. I don’t think we should be embarrassed about it.
When I started at Accenture, I noticed the caring atmosphere straight away. To me, ‘belonging’ is feeling like you’re part of something bigger than yourself, and feeling accepted and loved for who you are. At Accenture I definitely see that. I wouldn’t have reached out to the Mental Health Allies network if Accenture hadn’t created a space for me to feel comfortable to do so.
When I started at Accenture six years ago, I came into a team that was incredibly pro-mental health awareness, that was doing a lot of pioneering stuff. I got to know the head of mental health awareness in my team quite quickly, told him I’d love to get involved, and went through the mental health awareness training.
Shortly after that, a colleague confided in me that she had been feeling suicidal. I cancelled everything else I was doing that day, pulled together a team to help, and the colleague saw a psychiatrist that afternoon. She got incredible support, took six months off, and came back in a good role for her.
I believe that if you’re going to have a successful project, you’ve got to have good people. To have good people, you’ve got to have healthy people—and that means both physical and mental health. If they’re stressed, you’ve got to think about how you manage that stress. I’m a very people-centric person. I don’t see mental health as a stigma. It’s just another aspect of our health. That’s my ethos.
Accenture’s Mental Health Allies network is about being available and welcoming to people in their time of need. I’ve created an open door for people to come and talk to me. That’s important, because people will only come forward with an issue if they feel safe talking to you. The tools that we have at Accenture to help and support anyone who comes forward are incredible, and they can be activated so quickly.
If you don’t have a close friend that you feel comfortable talking with about your mental health, we’ve made it clear that it’s okay to have those conversations with someone at work. It’s a safe place. That can be anything from struggling working at home to very serious mental health challenges. I would argue that it’s also about neurodiversity; I’m dyslexic and I’ve got an autistic child, so I can empathise with people around these issues. It’s important to be open about yourself. It creates a sense of safety, empathy, and you become approachable.
At Accenture, mental health issues aren’t stigmatised, they’re seen as another component of overall health. The ways we can support people with mental health issues can be as small as changing the way they work, their work environment, or their working hours. Accenture’s HR team is incredibly supportive and well-trained around this. The only true asset Accenture has is its people. Therefore, we spend time supporting and investing in everyone.
My story starts before I joined Accenture when I was working in child protection. While I was training, I found that I was becoming quite overwhelmed and was suffering from stress and anxiety. I started having panic attacks and had issues with sleeping and eating. I took a break from that and spent time understanding and managing my own mental health. I received counselling, which I found helpful, and found that better nutrition and physical health had a positive impact.
When I came to Accenture, I knew the value of understanding mental health in the workplace and how important it is to support each other and have an open dialogue. After I joined the Mental Health Allies network, it was interesting seeing some of the therapeutic activities I’d been learning about applied in the work environment. It also made me feel like there were people around me with an understanding of what a safe space can be, in terms of mental health.
After a few years working at Accenture, I went on maternity leave. I don’t think I had realised how hard returning was going to be after the pandemic. Everything had changed. Everyone was really lovely and supportive, but the role I landed in turned out not to be a good fit for me. I was struggling to find a way to change direction without feeling like that called into question my own competence. It took a while for anything to get started; we were working from home, and I didn’t really have a sense of purpose. I was feeling very, very lost.
I’d been keeping an eye on the Mental Health Allies network, and someone posted a really good article about imposter syndrome. In the comments people were giving insights into their own experience, and it made me feel like there was an opportunity to connect with people who would understand my situation. I typed, deleted, and retyped a comment that was fairly innocuous, but displayed just enough vulnerability that when people commented it meant they connected to what I was going through.
As a result, I was able to ping one of the Mental Health Allies who I thought might understand my situation and say, ‘Hey, fancy a virtual coffee? I noticed your comments, it would be nice to connect.’ A couple of weeks later, when we chatted, the floodgates opened. We talked about my options, and she reassured me that speaking up about my mental health issues wouldn’t call into question my capabilities.
She was able to give some real insight into what my next steps could be. It changed my course. Although we only spent an hour together, the following months were unrecognisable from the previous ones. The moral of the story is that you are never alone. So don’t be afraid to reach out to somebody. I think we’re intrinsically wired to want to help each other, and everyone needs help at some point in their lives.
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