Hi, I'm Angie Alexander and, alongside my HMRC day job, I’m one of the Department’s Mental Health Advocates. Its Mental Health Awareness week and the theme this year is stress. According to the Mental Health Association two-thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes, and stress can be a key factor in this.
Close to home
I only have to look at my own family to see the evidence. I have family members who suffer from bi-polar and depression, social anxiety and ADHD. I lost my father-in-law to suicide due to his own mental health condition.
I suffer from anxiety and stress but thankfully I’ve learnt to manage it well - not with medication, but instead with hobbies and activities that get me talking and meeting new people. Most people who know me would agree…I like to talk! I also enjoy socialising but sometimes, like others, I just can’t face it.
Network of mental health support groups
So when I got a place on an HMRC Talent Programme last year and had to do a project as part of my assessment, I decided to focus on Health & Wellbeing and Mental Health Awareness. I wanted to help colleagues who may be stressed and suffering in silence by creating a safe and confidential place they could just talk. This led to me setting up a mental health support group in Newcastle as part of a wider, national network, and I was asked to become a Health & Wellbeing Advocate.
Sharing and supporting
The Newcastle group was launched on World Mental Health Day back in October 2017. We hold monthly meetings and everyone is welcome. We introduce ourselves and say how we are feeling, we talk about our own mental health or those we care for, share our experiences, coping strategies and show our support for each other.
There are no expectations and anything shared in the group goes no further - confidentiality is key to building trust and allowing people to open up. Here’s what two of our members have to say
"Attending a group session made me realise that I am not alone at work with this problem and that I can support others at the group meetings with what I have learnt from bad times."
"I cannot remember a time in my 17 year HMRC career where I have felt such a real sense of commitment to making HMRC a better place to work. There is strong emphasis on raising awareness of a wide range of subjects such as inclusion, respect, mental health and pride. It really does make me feel proud to work here - that we are being listened to and have wealth of channels to have a say and get involved."
Mental Health matters at HMRC, and I’m pleased to have got involved and made a difference, both to myself and to others.
Angie Alexander, Mental Health Advocate
You can find out more on Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 including links to the latest research about the effects of stress on the Mental Health Foundation website