Housing association Riverside takes its responsibility to its mental health champions seriously.

When Riverside started their journey to tackle mental health stigma in the workplace, they initially hoped to recruit 20 mental health champions. They received 70 responses to their first advertisement to staff. Now the company has over 180 champions across the organisation, covering locations from London to Scotland.

Recruiting mental health champions is a really important step for any organisation that has signed up to the Time to Change Employer pledge. Organisations are often pleasantly surprised by how enthusiastically staff react to the opportunity to take on a champion role. But, recruiting mental health champions is only the first step.

Photo of Riverside housing association

For Riverside, an impressive network of champions came with the realisation that a system of support was needed to keep champions safe and enable them to carry out their role to the best of their abilities. Champions can encounter all kinds of mental health problems and there is the potential for them to become stressed and overwhelmed. Riverside didn’t want the experience of being a mental health champion to have a negative impact on any individual’s mental health and so they started to think about the ways in which champions could be supported.

First and foremost, Riverside ensured that clear boundaries were set for champions. Champions are there to listen and provide support but are reminded that they are not mental health professionals. Each champion is asked to only support four individuals at any one time to limit the amount the champions take on and to prevent them feeling overwhelmed. 

Additionally, there are ample resources that champions can make use of, including an online toolkit. Riverside decided to make the toolkit digital so that it could be accessed by employees in locations all over the country. Within this toolkit, champions can find all kinds of useful things, including an FAQ giving champions an idea of the kind of issues they might encounter and personal safety plans that they can give to other staff members.

Regular networking sessions held in local offices allow champions to support each other and share best practice. Champions are also encouraged to keep a reflective practice diary so they can reflect on their interactions with staff and think about the ways in which they could improve. All these practices help champions feel supported which, in turn, enables champions to provide the best possible support to others.

It can be easy to focus on those who need immediate support for their mental health in the workplace, but organisations wanting to develop a sustainable approach to mental health should invest in longer-term support for champions. The resources and procedures developed by Riverside were the result of a realisation that champions needed to be supported in order to protect their own mental health and make their work sustainable. These practices can provide inspiration for other organisations looking to take a similar approach.