World mental health day: our work with Sanctus

9th October 2020

Right now we are facing a huge amount of uncertainty, which is affecting our mental health and wellbeing. In this blog our COO Sarah Pettinger talks about her story and the partnership with mental health start up Sanctus.

My lock down started about a week before Boris’ address to the nation that sent us all to our homes after stockpiling pasta and toilet roll. My youngest had a mystery fever (turned out to be chickenpox just to make the whole thing a bit more fun) and so we were suddenly isolating at home from nursery, school and work; trying to continue with our jobs, get an online shopping delivery slot and stop our two children just watching back to back cartoons.  

On that first day I can remember going up to our bedroom (for some quiet) and bursting into tears. My capacity to deal with uncertainty had been exceeded and all I could see ahead was a stretch of ‘I’m not sure how on earth we’re going to make this work’.  

Fast forward seven months and somehow, we made it work. It was not easy, and I have no desire to repeat it again. At times we lived in a very happy sunny bubble, in our very nice home, in a very nice Cambridgeshire village; the climbing frame we panic bought at the start of lock down turned out to be a great investment, and we were grateful every day for the luck we knew we had in abundance. But at other times the black cloud hung low and heavy, and for the first time in my life I felt I had some idea of what mental health really meant.  

I was reminded of a diversity & inclusion survey across Omobono in late 2019. 80% of our team responded, and of them, 40% of them told us they had suffered from a mental health related issue over the last 12 months. I think it’s fair to say our collective jaws hit the floor when we saw that stat, none of us has any idea. So just before covid turned our worlds upside down we’d already started talking to Sanctus, who are on a mission to normalise conversation about mental health at work and provide mental health coaches into workplaces. When the world turned virtual and we could see the stress it was putting on our team, we went ahead and brought two of their coaches into our business to create a 1-2-1 space where anyone could go and talk confidentially about anything – big or small, related to work or home.  

Working with Sanctus, it has become abundantly clear to me is that it is as important for a company to normalise conversation about mental health, as it is for a company to directly support people with their mental health. If it’s not normal to talk about mental health then even the most supportive company can’t help. I can name several times over the years when Omobono has gone above and beyond to support people who have been at crisis point with mental health, but the very point is that getting to crisis point is part of the problem. As a company we were stepping in when it was blindingly obvious that something was wrong, but we weren’t giving any kind of support to that 40% who’d had a mental health issue. For most of them it was a case of coping, perhaps feeling like they needed to keep it quiet and that as long as it wasn’t spilling into work then it wasn’t work’s problem – and that’s what we need to change.  

One of our team talked about that shift, and the impact of having Sanctus in our company. 

Everything about our health is intertwined, so it’s crucial we’re also taking care of ourselves mentally as well as physically. The thing that’s been the most interesting to learn is how mental health is a unique experience for everyone, which is why a safe space to explore those feelings is so important. I feel increasingly grateful for Omobono because they have encouraged me to take care of myself mentally, in whatever way works for me. 

The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day is ‘Mental Health for All’ and whatever our general state of mental health, I think there are few people who can really say covid hasn’t taken its toll in some way. It’s something we’ve talked about a lot within Omobono since March, our situations are all so different now, what we need for our own mental health is as different.  At Omobono we have been active in trying to acknowledge that the life we are experiencing at the moment is not normal, how hard it can make simple things feel, how exhausting these ways of remote working and lack of direct connection can be.   

This extraordinary period is impacting us all differently 

In the current situation, it’s easy for our own wants and needs to get pushed to the bottom of the pile when we’re dealing with our families, our home and work lives all effectively from the same room. Sanctus provides me with a place where there are no expectations, no right answers or actions, where I can give myself permission to just be, to put myself first, and allow myself to focus on what I am thinking or feeling in the moment, without judgement, but with guidance as to how I can better recognise things that I need, and act in a more compassionate way towards myself. 

We also talk a lot about wholeness, in fact our company success statement names people being able to be their wholehearted selves as a measure of our success. We strongly believe that the notion of showing up at work as anything other than the person you truly are is outdated, and in these covid times where life has collided with work in an unimaginable way it’s essential that we create space for people to be whole. Sometimes the remote window into a colleague’s life is the human contact they will have for the day, sometimes it’s the moment of calm they need in the chaos of life.  

These are testing times, ours can be a testing industry. If you want to increase the volume of the conversation about mental health at work then sign up for the Santus mental health advocates updates for tips and support on building that conversation. 

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