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Championing mental health and wellbeing

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Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, with the EA’s Deputy Director for EU Exit Andy Croxford, co-leader of the mental health network Jonathan Alawo, leader of the Healthy Minds programme Vicky Williams, Deputy Director for health, safety and wellbeing Richard Houghton, and TV personality Anna Williamson earlier this year. The EA was presented a gold award in Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index recognising its work to support employees’ mental wellbeing.

The statistics tell us that 1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental health concern in any given year, so it’s an important issue for employers and individuals. And as today’s World Mental Health Day, it’s a chance for us all to talk about our wellbeing – and to highlight what we as employers can do to help.

Employers often say that their staff are their greatest asset; here at the Environment Agency we think so, too. We want our people to be well and happy – and that’s why we have been working so hard to look after the health of our people. All of us have mental health in the same way as we all have physical health and our mental health changes over time in the same way as our physical health does.

Breaking down the barriers

As a manager, I have been in the challenging position of supporting team members struggling with mental health issues. I felt genuinely concerned for their wellbeing, yet inexperienced and ill-equipped to help. It was this experience that led me to champion mental health in the workplace over the years – I didn’t want anyone else to feel that way, either as an employee or a manager.

As well as the standard procedures that any large organisation has, we have done two main things to address mental health in at the Environment Agency: our Healthy Minds programme and our staff-led network.

Healthy Minds is an awareness-raising and training programme for both individuals and line managers that teaches people how to spot the signs of emotional distress as well as how to access support. It creates a positive, safe environment to help staff break down any barriers and talk without fear of stigma.

Healthy Minds is a training programme set up to help staff access support for mental health

A network by staff and for staff

Our employee-led mental health network is remarkable in that it is entirely run by staff, for staff. It offers a safe space where people can talk honestly about mental health issues. The network carries out a phenomenal amount of work, offering webinars, mindfulness training and local discussions. It lets people share their personal stories on our staff intranet – helping further remove misconceptions and stigma.

Through the group, our staff can also get assistance from trained wellbeing advisors – sometimes referred to as mental health first aiders – who can offer an empathetic ear and guide them to other useful resources. Plus, line managers can also get peer support through the network, enabling them to understand and support their team members’ individual needs.

The network now has more than 600 members and is growing daily. Roughly a third of all our line managers have undertaken Healthy Minds programme. And some of our training webinars have seen so much interest, the system has been overwhelmed!

Leading the way in wellbeing

We’re going to start assessing work load and stress risks when creating new roles, and will look at how we can adapt existing ones to make sure they support staff wellbeing. And in terms of raising awareness, we’re looking to specifically reach out to our male colleagues, as men are often harder to engage with when it comes to mental health. And we’ll be running a campaign internally to make people think about the five ways they can look after their own – and others’ – wellbeing: connecting, being active, taking notice, continuing to learn, and giving.

We will be taking part in Mind’s index again next year. I’ll be fascinated to find out whether we’ve improved even more, and what we should focus on next to make sure our staff are looking after their wellbeing. I’ll also be hoping we come out top again of course!

  • Andy Croxford is a Deputy Director at the Environment Agency. He’s been with the Agency for nearly 20 years, for many of which he has championed mental health in the organisation.

You can learn more about Mind’s workplace wellbeing index here:

You can also find out more about World Mental Health Day, as well as get more information on how to look after your mental wellbeing here:


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  1. Comment by Ex Employee posted on

    Well, I’m glad the Environment Agency is at last doing something about the mental health and wellbeing of its employees. I have very unhappy memories of my time in Thames Region in the nineties. I was seconded to a position that I wasn’t best prepared for and instead of receiving support to help me succeed I experienced hostility from several departments that I was ‘answerable’ to. I was even scapegoated for a mains cable strike by a team with which I had the most tenuous connection.

    And my line manager is now basking in the sunny uplands of the Angency’s hierarchy. Fifteen years after retirement I still have bad dreams of a career unfulfilled.

  2. Comment by Ketan Varia posted on

    Do consider improv as a way of mental health well being.
    Improvisation, or ‘improv’, is a form of live theatre in which the plot, characters, and dialogue of a game, scene or story are made up spontaneously. There are no lines to rehearse and it is highly creative. No acting skills are required. Improv is a very good tool for those who suffer from generalised anxiety, fear of criticism, fear of failure or acute stress. Improv is regarded as a highly effective tool for ‘well-being’.
    See a brochure here about improv.


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