Mental health awareness week 2022
NUJ holds first online mental health conference for members and reps.
On Saturday 7 May, NEC member Raj Ford welcomed delegates keen to engage in discussion with the union, on exploring practical ways to work together with members to adopt a collective approach to mental health.
Whilst recognising the impact the pandemic has had on individuals and the wider media industry, Raj stressed that there was power in sharing experiences and that these could encourage important dialogue on mental health and positive changes in how we look after ourselves.
"Taking a collective approach to mental health is vital to tackle work-related causes of mental distress. We aim to provide reps with the resources to bargain with employers, to take mental health more seriously and to make members aware of their rights and the support they can access through the NUJ."
NUJ members are acutely aware of the economic impact of the pandemic on journalists. Addressing the conference, Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, discussed the important role the union had played throghout the last two years in securing support for members, and the action that NUJ Extra had taken serving as a lifeline.
“Being part of a union is about having a collective voice at work, and about your work”. She stressed “our members’ health and safety is at the core of the trade union movement and when it comes to mental health, this should be no different.”
Michelle spoke of the difficulties journalists face currently, “many incredibly worried about the cost of living increase” and working in hostile environments. She emphasised the NUJ’s commitment to supporting members, announcing the union would soon be launching a safety film featuring first-hand testimony from members who had been subject to harassment and abuse.
This year’s theme for mental health awareness week is “loneliness” and conference delegates heard how employer decisions including closing offices has shaped member experiences. Work to connect freelances and NUJ members is underway, alongside planning for a PTSD roundtable taking place later this year, pooling expertise from across journalism.
Natasha Hirst, NUJ vice president, announced the union had developed a mental health toolkit with practical action reps can take in workplaces and networks, to implement policies that make workplaces fairer. Considering the impact of the pandemic on NUJ members, she said:
“It is important to think of groups of workers who face additional discrimination both inside and outside of work. The pandemic does not affect everybody equally. There are additional inequalities in life that reinforce the negative impact that the pandemic has had, or that poor working conditions can have.”
As a freelance member herself, she recognised that many others were still experiencing job insecurity and that this could have a significant impact on mental health. The union is committed to supporting members and drawing on her own personal experience, Natasha said it was her NUJ branch and colleagues who had supported her activism within the union.
Ian Manborde from the trade union Equity, sent a passionate message of solidarity to NUJ members in his opening remarks. Ian discussed the importance of empowering members to push back against harmful practices, supporting them through poor mental health and encouraging the reporting of incidents including harassment and abuse.
Up next to address conference was John Crowley from the Headlines Network. A proud NUJ member and journalist for over two decades, John said “a healthier and happier workforce produces better work”. Presenting a wealth of information including conversation guidelines, he reflected on how to manoeuvre the increasing pressure journalists face in their work, whilst protecting their mental health.
Headlines Network is leading a workshop on 23 May and registration is now open.
It wasn’t all formal business. Emma from Practical Pilates led a desk-based session focused on the head, neck and shoulders. The taster session was enough to encourage sign-ups to her session planned with the NUJ on 12 May. There’s still time to register here.
In the final session of the day, NUJ reps shared action they had taken in workplaces to support good mental health practices. These included:
- using surveys to seek member views and experiences on mental health
- identifying instances when poor mental health may be exacerbated and supporting members through these periods
- stressing the importance of mental health training for managers
- educating members and employers about hidden disabilities
- highlighting the links between financial stress and poor mental health
- supporting members when signposting to much-needed services, recognising the process itself can be daunting
Our reps panel session was led by:
- Lynn Degele, chair of the Oxford Branch, vice chair of the Disabled Members’ Council and a workplace equality rep
- Emma Boyde, co-deputy mother of the chapel with a special responsibility for mental health
- Mark Fisher, secretary of Edinburgh Freelance Branch for over 15 years. He sits on the Scottish Executive Council, the Freelance Industrial Council and a job share on the National Executive Council
- Zainab Juma, Mother of Chapel for the Penguin Random House office unions
Thank you to all conference delegates who engaged in the lively Q&A session. You can read our live tweets from the day, by searching #NUJmentalhealth
From 10-23 May, NUJ members can attend free evening workshops with expert trainers, all focused on improving mental health.
Watch the full conference on the NUJ YouTube channel.
Here's part one:
Access the NUJ mental health toolkit for reps below.Mental health toolkit