All work and no play is damaging UK family life

ADVO Group interviews Paul Farmer, Chief Executive, Mind


Mind is the leading mental health charity in England and Wales providing advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They help individuals to understand their condition and the choices available to them – through their Infoline, their Legal Advice Service and their award-winning publications and website, certified by the Information Standard. Their network of more than 160 local Minds offer specialised support and care based on local need. Paul Farmer is the Chief Executive of Mind, responsible for leading the strategic and operational direction of the charity. He joined in May 2006 having previously worked for nine years as the Director of Public Affairs at Rethink where he was responsible for the Rethink National Advice Service, campaigns and communications, fundraising and marketing, events, research and user and carer involvement departments. Prior to this, Paul worked as Communications Manager for the Samaritans. Paul has co-authored acclaimed publications on reducing stigma and discrimination and is also a trustee for the Directory of Social Change, a campaigning voluntary organisation that provides the sector with training and publications. Between 2001 and 2006, Paul was Chairman of the Mental Health Alliance, which brings together all the major mental health charities and voluntary organisations to campaign for a better Mental Health Act. Paul was named in the Guardian’s ‘The influence 100’ as one of the top agenda setters for his outstanding work in the mental health field and has been shortlisted for this year’s Third Sector Awards in the ‘Most Admired Charity Chief Executive of the Year’ category. In the latest in ADVO Group’s exclusive interview series we caught up with Paul to discuss mental health in the workplace through the charity’s ongoing ‘Taking Care of Business’ campaign, tips for dealing with stress and much more.

What does your typical day at Mind involve?

I’m usually woken up by my son wanting to find out the football results from the night before! Then it’s a quick cycle to the station and prepare for meetings. Typically, I divide my time between our campaigning and awareness raising work, often in Westminster and Whitehall, spending time with our 160 local Minds, and managing our organisation of 200 staff. No two days are the same, but the focus is always on how we can ensure that the voices of people with mental health problems are heard.

What part of your role at Mind gives you the most satisfaction?

When someone who has experienced a mental health problem tells us that we’ve made a difference to their lives. It might be an individual who’s received help at a local Mind or from our Information team, or someone who will benefit from a campaign change we’ve helped bring about. Recently, the Mental Health Discrimination Act was passed which now means that people with mental health problems can be jurors, MPs and Company Directors. That’s a step in the right direction!

What do you think are some of most significant milestones that Mind has reached since its establishment?

Mind has always stood up for people with mental health problems, to tackle the stigma and discrimination, and to campaign for better services for all.

In the 1940s and 50s, people with mental health problems were literally “out of sight, out of mind”, locked away in Victorian asylums. Mind campaigns led to the Health Minister standing up at a Mind Conference in 1961 to announce the closure programme of the asylums. This was the first significant step in recognizing that people with mental health problems should be treated as equal citizens in our society.

In the 70s and 80s, we campaigned for better resources for those who were let down by the early problems with “community care”, and helped secure safeguards for people who were sectioned by law.

In the 90s, we secured additional resources for mental health services, and in particular to increase access to talking treatments.

Now we see mental health as the big health and social justice issue of the 21st century across all aspects of society. Our Time to Change campaign has helped start to break down the stigma of mental health; businesses are increasingly recognizing the need to address mental health, and last year 4 MPs spoke openly about their own experience. We are excited about the potential of social media to support people-our new Elefriends digital platform ( is already helping over 3000 people to support each other online.

We helped the Government to adopt the principle of “parity of esteem” in health care between mental and physical health. This means that health services should pay as much attention to our minds as they do to our bodies.

But there is a long way to go. The economic situation has had a major impact on the country’s mental health.

Many of our campaigns led to breakthroughs in prescribing practice, government policy, and in encouraging new understandings of mental health and the issues faced by service users. We now have to move to a new level.

One of your ongoing campaigns, ‘Taking Care of Business’, looks at the issue of mental health in the workplace. Please tell us some more about this great campaign.

Mind’s Taking Care of Business campaign aims to highlight the benefits of promoting, and the costs of neglecting, mental health in the workplace. We have advice for both employers and employees on creating mentally healthy workplace, as well as how to manage their stress levels.

In difficult times, employers may be reluctant to invest in measures to help keep their staff mentally healthy, but Mind’s recent poll* found around 60% of workers surveyed said if their employer took action to support the mental wellbeing of all staff, they would feel more loyal, motivated, committed and be likely to recommend their workplace as a good place to work.

60% of workers surveyed said if their employer took action to support the mental wellbeing of all staff, they would feel more loyal, motivated, committed and be likely to recommend their workplace as a good place to work


Mind’s poll* also found that work was the biggest cause of stress in people’s lives, more so than debt or financial problems – this demonstrates the scale of the problem.

Mind’s research* also found that 90% of people who had time off for stress cited a different reason for their absence such as headache or upset stomach, suggesting people don’t feel they can disclose they are feeling pressured to their boss.

We’re providing free resources for businesses and signposting to further help and support-via our own Mind Workplace service.

One of the statistics given as part of the ‘Taking Care of Business’ campaign is that 19% of people feel unable to speak to their managers about feeling stressed at work? Why do you think so many people feel unable to do so?

Our research confirms that there is a culture of fear and silence around talking about stress and mental health in the workplace. There is still a huge taboo – it’s the elephant in the room. In times of recession people are fearful that if they tell their boss they are stressed they will be demoted, dismissed or replaced. Yet stress and mental health problems are prevalent in all organisations. We know right now 1 in 6 workers is experiencing stress, anxiety or depression, so it’s a problem too big to ignore. Starting a conversation about mental health doesn’t have to be difficult, but employers should take the first step. It’s a good idea to conduct a staff survey as this provides insight into the mindset of individual team members.

As part of the ‘Taking Care of Business’ campaign you are providing a series of webinars for managers and employers. What can employers aim to gain from these? 

Mind recently held two webinars for managers and HR professionals about promoting mental wellbeing even in tough times and supporting staff living with mental health problems. Attendees were able to email in their questions and concerns to our panel who were on hand to give their advice.

The first webinar, aimed at managers, featured a panel of experts including Stephen Bevan of The Work Foundation. The second, for HR professionals, featured Eugene Farrell of AXA PPP Healthcare and Jonathan Bowers of UKFast, winner of Employee Engagement Strategy of the Year at the 2013 UK Customer Satisfaction Awards.

Both webinars are available to view online along with a number of other useful resources– please visit for more information.

Do you think that there any any particular industries or sectors within the jobs market that are perhaps better or worse at recognising and discussing stress amongst staff?

People can experience stress and mental health problems in any line of work and in any size organisation. Those employees expected to frequently work long hours, who have excessive workloads and little support from managers and colleagues may be more prone to bouts of stress. Organisations which invest in measures to ensure mental wellbeing of their staff are more likely to have an efficient and productive workforce, whereas employers in which there is a culture of fear and silence around speaking out about mental health and wellbeing means there could be undetected problems. These problems could spiral into crisis and lead to bouts of sickness absence. Mind has a bespoke consultancy service for employers to help increase efficiency of staff while safeguarding their wellbeing. For a full list of the training and consultancy services we offer please visit

Many businesses have set great examples and are showing that this doesn’t have to be difficult. One such organisation is Deloitte, who have been instrumental in setting up a ‘mental health champions’ scheme which allows people to provide informal, confidential peer support to staff who may be struggling. It’s led by John Binns, a Mind Trustee and senior partner at Deloitte, who has been very open about his own experiences with depression.

Do you think the workplace will ever reach the desired level of discussion and concern for mental health amongst employees or do you think the issue will always, to an extent at least, unfortunately be swept under the rug?

We know that 1 in 6 workers is experiencing anxiety, stress or depression but too often discussing mental health in the workplace is a taboo. This stigma could be heightened during this difficult financial climate, with people particularly fearful of losing their jobs. Mind’s recent poll* found 26 per cent of respondents found excessive workload very or quite stressful, and 24 per cent found job insecurity stressful. Whilst it is clear lots of people are feeling the pressure, few individuals feel comfortable talking about it. Our survey* found 42 per cent believed stress was seen either as a sign of weakness or that you can’t cope; and only 41 per cent felt they could talk to their line manager if they were feeling stressed. There are still certain types of industry within which it is less acceptable to discuss mental health than others, but we hope that this will change as businesses come to realise the costs of neglecting staff wellbeing.

Quite simply, we can’t afford for mental health to be ignored any more. It’s damaging our health and it’s damaging the economy.

If an employee is finding their working environment particularly stressful, what tip could you give them for one of the easiest ways of improving their situation?

My top tip is simply to take 5 minutes to think and plan, and five minutes to relax calmly before you start work. It’s an employer’s responsibility to create the right kind of environment, but there are a number of things staff can and should do to help manage their mental wellbeing at work. Other tips include:

  • Plan each day, with time for work, tasks, relaxation and leisure activities.
  • Identify the time of day when you have the most energy and concentration and do important tasks during this time.
  • List tasks in order of importance, then tackle urgent ones first.
  • Vary dull tasks with interesting ones, tiring jobs with easier ones.
  • Don’t try to do too many things at once – this increases risk of mistakes.
  • Once you’ve finished a task, take a few moments to pause and relax.
  • Make sure you take a lunch break.
  • Have a change of scene – a short walk allows you to focus on what’s happening around you, rather than your worries.
  • At the end of each day, reflect on what you’ve achieved, rather than worrying about what still needs to be done.
  • Develop a hobby that uses your brain in a different way from work. It can be a great release and a way to make new friends.
  • Talking about your day with friends helps keep things in perspective. Smiling and laughing produces hormones which help you relax.
  • If colleagues are making unrealistic or unreasonable demands, be honest and say no.
  • If you find yourself in conflict with someone, try to find solutions which are positive for both of you.

What kind of information can we expect to find on the mind blog? (

Each week Mind publishes blog posts on a whole range of topics, relating in some way to mental health. Blogs help to show that people with mental health problems are cared about, understood and listened to. The Mind blog can empower and strengthen. A blog can challenge the status quo and change attitudes. Since the blog launched in 2009, it has been a great platform to show that mental health is an important issue. We usually post guest blogs from people who have experience of a mental health problem – their everyday stories, their ups and their downs. Last year Mind’s digital team posted more than 100 stories!

Mind has a large social media following. What social sites can Mind be found on and what type of content can we expect to find on each?

You can find Mind on Twitter @Mindcharity and Facebook. We’re on both networks every weekday between 10am and 5pm. Sometimes you’ll find us on twitter live tweeting during TV shows or at events. We have more than 50,000 followers on Twitter so come join one of the largest mental health communities in social media. On Facebook we usually share our blogs and have a conversation around a mental health topic each day – whether that’s cheering on our London marathoners or talking about last night’s TV. And our friends post pictures of what’s happening with them too.

You can follow me on @paulfarmermind for an idea of what a charity Chief Exec gets up to!

Mind are holding the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon this October. Please tell us some more about this and are there any other ways people can get involved to help Mind?

Mind has been chosen as a Golden Oak partner for the Royal Parks Half Marathon this year, and we’re always on the look-out for fearless runners to take part in one of the UK’s most spectacular half marathons. The run takes participants on a beautiful tour of London’s Royal parks and as well as soaking up the buzzing atmosphere, most people love taking part. This could be because they’re setting themselves a unique personal challenge, they’re feeling physically and mentally well by getting outdoors, and they’re raising money and awareness for a cause close to their hearts. I’ve personally taken part twice and I’m always so inspired by the passion and commitment of the Mind runners. By taking part in the half marathon or joining us to cheer on the day, you can help to support the one in four people affected by a mental health problem in any one year too. To find out more visit

One of the recent blog posts on the Mind website ( talked about proper relaxation. It seems that a lot of people are perhaps not relaxing properly by simply distracting themselves with the TV or their computer. What steps can someone take towards more effective relaxation?

Nowadays we all have busy lives and many of us juggle multiple commitments such as work and family life. But it’s important that we switch off and relax. Watching TV or going online may help some people relax, but for many it is merely a temporary distraction and worries may still hang over us during or after this distraction. It is important you find out when you feel most relaxed. For many people it can be cooking, taking a bath, reading a book, exercising or listening to music. Breathing is important too – it sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how much of a difference breathing techniques can make in reducing anxiety. Mind has some handy relaxation tips on our website:

*Research reference: Populus interviewed 2060 adults aged 18+ in England and Wales, in work between 6-10 March 2013, results available at