Wales Co-operative Centre

Canolfan Cydweithredol Cymru

Mark talks about supportive employers at mental health conference

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Mark Smith, a member of the Centre’s Marketing Team, was invited to speak at the Mental Health Today Conference, which was held in Newport, last week. Here’s his story…

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve lived with mental ill health for many years. I’ve always been open about my experiences of depression and anxiety, which includes disclosure to my employers.

I was diagnosed before joining the Centre. My previous employer was the first to know and, fortunately for me, he responded positively saying that he’d rather have ‘me operating at 80% than most others at 100%’. That’s stuck with me for a long time.

Ever since I joined the Centre in 2007, the support that I’ve been given has been invaluable. My own manager, Catherine, attended a Mental Health First Aid course to equip her with skills and knowledge that she could use to support me and others with. I’ve condensed my hours, to give me a bit more breathing space from one working week to the next. I can work from home when I need to. My colleagues are generally more understanding when my mood bounces all over the place! There are a number of people at the organisation that I can confide in, at all different levels and in various departments. I’ve also listened to others and advised them when I’ve been well, but they’ve been struggling.

It was a reference to this support that I started a speech with, at the Mental Health Today Conference. Mind Cymru invited me to be on the panel of a workshop that looked into the role of service users in their own care planning. The term ‘service user’ is not one that I like, but we moved on. As well as outlining my experiences of other areas of support that I’ve accessed down the years, I also made some suggestions for how health professionals could improve engagement with people that have mental ill health and wider engagement with support bodies that may end up helping the same people. People with mental ill health are generally happier and healthier in employment, than not. Working for a supportive employer can be absolutely critical to someone’s wellbeing and the overall structure and purpose of a person’s life, particularly if they’ve experienced mental illness.

My colleagues Katija Dew and Jocelle Lovell, who head up the Centre’s Financial Inclusion work, also attended the conference. Jocelle said she found the event useful for a variety of reasons:

“Having recently joined the Centre’s Diversity group, I found the conference of real value. It was very encouraging to see the afternoon session really focusing on collaboration across different services areas and teams; taking a very person-centred approach to service delivery, and ultimately delivering better value for money.

“The focus on financial inclusion for individuals suffering from mental health conditions should be an absolute priority, as the statistics shared in the morning session showed a high correlation between debt issues and mental health issues. With services available, such as the Credit Union Rent Account, this is a great way to support people to manage their money more effectively, whilst prioritising their rent payments, and reducing the additional stress caused by rent arrears.”

Later in the day, it was good to hear that not only were senior figures in the mental health sector in Wales open to genuine partnership working and new, innovative approaches, but they were also open to the prospect of co-operative working. The Centre is involved in work around the Health and Social Care agenda in Wales, with potential for more services to be delivered on a co-operative basis in future.

I’ve been inspired by the Wales Co-operative Centre and some of its clients, to develop a social enterprise ‘Making Minds’ that promotes the role of art and creativity in mental health. This takes up a fair bit of my spare time. I’m also volunteering for the Time to Change Wales anti-stigma and discrimination campaign. Workplaces that are proactive about discussing mental health and supporting employees that experience mental illness are, in my opinion, going to be better and more productive places to work in the long-term. After all, mental illness is the biggest single health-related cost to the UK economy. There are lots of organisations out there that can go into workplaces to help them achieve this and I’d be happy to help signpost people to that support, time and capacity allowing!

If you would like to contact Mark directly, please do so to 01443 742143 or

If you would like further information on the Centre’s Credit Union Rent Account work, please contact our Tackling Homelessness Through Financial Inclusion team on 029 2055 6195.



Written by Mark Smith

May 28, 2013 at 4:30 pm

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