“I have a North Star,” she says. “I want to create a world where my children never contemplate suicide as an option. That’s what drives me. I know what I’ve been through, and I know so many people that have lost people to suicide.”
Brunswick’s Ann-Kathrin Richter spoke with Jaman about the status of mental health in corporate life today, her work at the head of the CMHA and the organization’s plans for the future. There is much that business leaders can do, by challenging themselves and their people to reimagine their business as a space for health creation.
What sets the City Mental Health Alliance apart in the ecosystem around mental health?
We are a dynamic, purpose-driven social enterprise and a membership organization. We are probably one of the only organizations in the world that can have a compassionate dialogue on mental health and well-being with business leaders as well as civil society and government. We sit at the center of that Venn diagram, as a translator and an interpreting service for businesses. Businesses trust us, and governments and academics come to speak to us about leveraging the changes that business can drive on the issue. I see us as an anchor organization in the ecosystem.
How does CMHA create change?
We’re business-led, expert-guided. We’re not clinicians telling businesses what they should be doing. We are not trying to sell them the next silver bullet, because there isn’t one. Our starting point is business leaders recognizing mental health and well-being as a business issue that they need to act on.
There are three elements to how we create change. One is storytelling, that’s our signature element. Back when we started there wasn’t anything like this out there. We create safe spaces for storytellers, including our first board members. Michael Cole-Fontayn told the tragic story of losing his wife to depression and becoming a single parent. He was at the time the Chairman of BNY Mellon. Brian Heyworth told his story of a breakdown and then being employed by HSBC. He’s now our Chair. And John Binns, then Partner at Deloitte, told of a breakdown and recovery. So, you have three men—a banker, a lawyer and a management consultant—at the peak of their careers, talking about their mental health. That was significant because people weren’t talking about their stories. It all began with storytelling.
The second element is leaders within the business who are putting mental health and well-being on the boardroom agenda and making sure the issue is on the company’s risk register. This is so that mental health action can be appropriately resourced and mental health and well-being leads can be put in place to deliver against a dedicated strategy.
The third element is peer learning for well-being leads—people in HR, Diversity & Inclusion, and now increasingly dedicated Well-being leads. We facilitate them getting where they need to get to.
What do members find most valuable about being part of CMHA?
I think the first thing they’d say is that they love being part of the community—networking and learning from each other. This is the one place they come together on the issue and there’s no competition. Discussing what didn’t work in their experience is particularly important, so that businesses don’t have to repeat each other’s mistakes. We run seminars, information exchange sessions and roundtables supported by experts to facilitate this sharing.
The second thing is our evidence-based Thriving at Work Assessment, which provides each organization with an individualized report they then use to build their mental health and well-being strategy, and chart their progress against. Helpfully, they can also benchmark themselves against their industry peers. We award badges according to performance. The first rung is “committed” and the top is “health creating.”