When 888 Collective founder Jana Dowling experienced mental health issues while she was in full-time employment, she found the prospect of getting the help and support she needed from her employer almost impossible.

Jana 888

It wasn’t until after taking a career break for her mental health that a friend offered her a position as a PA, that opened her eyes to the level of support and flexibility that she needed. “In my first two months of returning to work, I did not book a single meeting for her and I made so many mistakes, but she never got upset with me.” Dowling shares. “Her understanding of where I was mentally was invaluable because after two months of making loads of mistakes, my confidence came back and I was able to work in an office environment again.”

Through this experience, Dowling came to the realisation that there are countless people out there who may be unemployed but have never had the support and opportunities that she had to be able to return to work and found herself wishing there was someone similar to her friend to help people get back to work. “I realised that saying ‘I wish’ wasn’t going to change anything,” Dowling says, and this encouraged her to set up 888 Collective to create more viable opportunities for people with mental health issues.

888 Collective is certainly leading the way as a social enterprise supporting and employing people with mental health issues, which was one of the proposed outcomes of the 2017 Thriving at Work report commissioned by the Prime Minister at the beginning of last year.

What is the importance of placing people with mental health issues into regular employment?

Firstly 1 in 6 people in the workplace suffer from mental health issues which shows people can experience mental health issues and still have the ability to work. While I was working I was diagnosed with Bi-polar disorder and I experienced depression and I was put on anti-depressants. One of the side effects of those anti-depressants was yawning which became noticeable to my colleagues. Due to my changes in behaviour, my colleagues began to make comments on it which led me to stop taking my medication as I didn’t want to be judged. Had there been someone in the office who I could talk to or someone who understood the side effects of antidepressants I wouldn’t have been in that position. This is why I believe that it is important that people with mental health issues need to be better understood and employers need to have this knowledge because that knowledge takes away the fear and stigma surrounding mental health issues.

Secondly in a survey carried out by Rethink Mental Illness, 67% of people with mental health issues stated they wanted to work or were looking for work but could not find employment. The Thriving at Work report revealed that up to 300,000 people with long-term mental health problems lose their jobs each year, which is costing the UK economy nearly £99bn each year. it is very important to provide work opportunities for people with mental health issues not just for them but also to relieve the pressure on our resources.

In the same way that employers would provide support for an employee with physical ailments, employers must support employees with mental health issues.

How should employers overcome the bias against employees with mental health issues?

Education is power, and Knowledge is key. Employers should be able to identify certain changes in their staff’s behaviour, whether they become withdrawn or quiet, in order to provide the necessary support. Being able to speak to your manager without fear of judgement. No fear that your work will be compromised. Asking employees with mental health issues to take responsibility for them, people who are struggling need to take responsibility because it isn’t just the employer who needs to take steps in assisting them. Having control will empower each individual.

How can employers remove taboo surrounding mental health and open the dialogue?

888 collective

Have consultants such as myself come into the office a speak on mental health and allow an open question and answer session for employees. It is also important for managers to open up as well about their experiences with mental health. Leaders need to be open about their own struggles and anxieties because even if you don’t suffer from mental health issues, you can definitely empathise with those feelings of anxiety and depression.

Handbooks given during the induction stage should also include a section covering what help is accessible if you are struggling with your mental and physical health. It is just about creating a dialogue and making people feel comfortable to speak on their struggles and take away the fear and stigma.

What measures can employers put in place to support staff with mental health issues?

Using a chart to record moods. Managers can do personality tests to determine how an employer generally is on the spectrum of their emotions and abilities. Giving people the opportunity to allow them to express how they are feeling, whether they are struggling or not, so they can have an actual conversation about how they are feeling, why they are feeling that way and then reassure them that you will work with them to alleviate those worries.

What successes have you seen with 888 Collective?

We are brand new, but we have already seen success with our pop-up café. One of our employees used the stepping stone of starting to work at the café to transition into full-time temp work, which she is currently doing. Two of our other staff members have had a change in their attitude as they are able to be more open about their mental health issues without judgement.

Where do you see 888 Collective going?

We aim to raise awareness by going into offices for workshops, presentations and panel discussion as well as continuing with the pop-up café. We will also be selling artwork created by people with mental health issues on our website, as well as creating a blog for writers and poets to share their stories. The main aim is to open up our own shop and café this year.

The aftermath of the Thriving at Work report had many employers promising to do more to support employees with mental health issues and 888 Collective is at the forefront of that, raising awareness, destigmatising mental health and providing much-needed support for companies and employees with mental health issues. The logistics of supporting employees will be one many topics covered at Reward Live this year, to register CLICK HERE