Future First’s Programme Director explains why it’s Time to Change

Written by Joy Upchurch, Programme Director at Future First

On 5 October 2020, Future First signed the employer pledge and became a Time to Change employer, committed to promoting good mental health in the workplace and breaking down mental health stigma.

As Programme Director at Future First, I’m proud to be spearheading the Time to Change action plan and showing our dedication to tackling mental health stigma. The support from Time to Change has been invaluable, and I’m excited to embed new ideas and activities into our organisational culture. I’m hopeful this will create an environment at Future First that breaks down barriers through increasing awareness of mental health issues, and supporting colleagues to feel comfortable talking about their own mental health.

I’ve suffered with anxiety since I was a teenager and I didn’t open up about it for a long time – it took me a while to realise that what I was experiencing was anxiety, due to the lack of information and open conversation. Even once I had that awareness, my anxiety was associated with feelings of fear and shame so I tried to ignore it – we often see it as the easier option to hide the truth, but in actual fact this reinforces those feelings of shame. This badly affected my experiences at university and previous jobs, not because they were ‘unsupportive’, but because there were no structures or processes in place to open the lines of communication around mental health.

Last year, I went through a period of increased anxiety and frustration at the fact I hadn’t been able to start managing it earlier in my life, which led me to research ways I could raise awareness and support people experiencing similar things, particularly young people. I did a few courses and my passion grew – I wanted to tackle the stigma I’d experienced and create opportunities for people to be open about their mental health. After training as a Mental Health First Aider and bringing that experience to Future First, I discovered the Time to Change pledge and saw the opportunity to develop those structures and processes that had been missing from my previous roles.

Lorraine, Chief Executive, commented on the importance of the Time to Change pledge:

“Many people suffer from mental health problems at some time in their life. It’s time we talked more openly about it. Future First is proud to take the Time to Change pledge as we want to be an employer that models good practice and creates a supportive environment in which our staff can succeed and thrive”.

Edina, Time to Change champion, talks about why she became a champion:

“Having struggled with anxiety for a number of years, I wanted to help normalise something that so many deal with every day. As I went into my teens, I felt the creep of anxiety edging in. Will I be successful? Will I get the grades? Am I good enough? How do I get to where I want to go? These are all good questions that every teenager faces but I was putting far more pressure on myself than necessary, as I was the only one of my siblings expected to go to university and go on to a high-flying career.

As I have gotten older, I have learnt how to manage my anxiety to the best of my ability and have a very good doctor who has helped but things got worse before they got better. I decided to become a Time to Change Champion as I want to make talking about mental health normal, my own experiences with my mental and those of others in my family mean I have an understanding of what coping in the workplace with a mental health condition can be like. I would like to see a world where people with mental health conditions are able to thrive. I am fortunate to work for Future First, an organisation that values the wellbeing of its staff and is working to make it an even better environment.”

Naomi, Time to Change champion, commented on her experience:

“I’ve seen the damaging effects of mental health stigma on children I’ve taught as well as friends and family. It can be difficult to navigate conversations about mental health and know how to support others, but it is so important for us all to make efforts to reduce the stigma. On a personal level, I’ve experienced different levels of support at different workplaces which has really affected my mental health at times of increased stress and anxiety. It makes a real difference when you know how to access support within work, and that you won’t be discriminated against or your experiences minimised. It’s great that Future First are signing the pledge to be a supportive employer which will make a practical difference to employees and send a message against stigma.”