Simon had the pleasure of sitting down with international mental health campaigner and pioneer Poppy Jaman OBE.
Poppy is the CEO of the City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA), a membership organisation that works with large city firms to transform their workplaces into mentally healthy environments. She also just happens to be a former CEO and Co-Founder of Mental Health First Aid England!
Poppy talked Simon through:
They also touched on Poppy's extensive sari collection, her hopes for the future, and eradicating the shame of mental illness.
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More on Poppy: poppyjaman.org
City Mental Health Alliance: citymha.org.uk
Poppy speaks to Bryony Gordon: telegraph.co.uk/women/life/poppy-jaman-racism-caught-cultures-triggered-depression-bryony
More on Simon: twitter.com/Simonablake
Simon Blake OBE is the Chief Executive of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England. His mission is to improve the mental health of the nation and help build an inclusive and society where attitudes and behaviours around mental health are normalised. Simon received an OBE in 2011, is Deputy Chair at Stonewall, and enjoys running, equestrian eventing, and walks with his dog.
More on #JACPodcast:
MHFA England: mhfaengland.org
I'm poppy Jaman , I'm CEO mental health first data, a mother, a global advocate for mental health. And I'm just about coping.Speaker 2:
Yeah, we talked for almost an hour.Speaker 1:
I said, sorry ,Speaker 2:
I'm Simon and this is just about coping and there are very many odd things that you get to do in your working life, but it's not very often that you get to interview your predecessor, the person that founded and made the organization that you're now chief exec of a roaring success today. I'm delighted to be speaking to poppy Djimon , uh, who was founder, chief exec of MFA, England until 2018 having been with the organization right from the beginning, we talked about amateur Fe , England, about mental health, about lived experience, and about the work that she now does at the city mental health Alliance. I hope you enjoy listening. So poppy , I'd be really [inaudible]Speaker 3:
keen just to start by talking a little bit, listening a little bit about your journey into the mental health work. Uh, how , how did, how did you end up as chief executive city mental health Alliance?Speaker 1:
So well as you know, the first, the previous role was CEO of mental health first aid your job, Simon . So that's, that was really how I, how city mental health Alliance came into my world before that , uh, mental health came into my world when I was still working in Portsmouth as a community development worker through the local authority. And actually my first introduction to the mental health world was a really small team that I'd created and we , we were called culture works. And I smart cause I think about it cause it seems so cheesy, but it, we actually had a competition to get that name. Um , and basically what we did was we recruited people from the community. So at the time it was the Bangladeshi, the Chinese and the Vietnamese community were the three big communities that were in Portsmouth. And we recruited people from the community on a sessional basis to work with people that were coming out of mental health hospitals , um, to help them reintegrate and settle back into the community. So really basic things like supporting them to get their benefits right, helping them do the food shop. And reminding people how to cook. Cause when people had been in hospital care for a long time, often we found that people lost their second language skills as well. So having bilingual support workers that worked to run alongside community psychiatric nurses and social workers to help people with just basic life skills was really where my, my journey in mental health started. And then you went to the department of health and work specifically around race and mental health. Yeah. So that project culture works. Won an award. I don't know who entered it to earn an award, but because it was Portsmouth and it was Southeast, it was seen as an organization that was doing some really effective simple work. So through that , um, I was asked by my, my boss then lady called Fiona Penfold, whether I wanted to do a BAME, it was BME at the time, black and minority ethnic leadership program that the NHS was running. My initial response was, why do I want a leadership program for BME people? Why can't I just do a , a one that everybody else is doing? And she convinced me that actually it would be one that would be really beneficial because of whatever it was she noticed that I, she thought it would be important for me. And then I guess the imposter syndrome kicked in and I was a bit like, there's no way I'm going to get selected for this. I'm not a nurse. I've never worked in the NHS. I'm just a community development worker. Anyway, I got on the course and that really opened up my eyes around the inequalities that uh, people from minority communities experience and how some of my thoughts and expectations of what I could IX have as a community career opportunity were limited by my background, my ethnicity, the lack of role models. Um, cause I was in a room full of other people from minority communities at various different positions. But all of us in managerial roles and almost all, all of us had very limited expectations of what we could achieve. So the leadership program was really effective and it was really effective because it was, it bought likeminded people together from around the country. And out of that came an introduction where the department of health had created an organization called the national Institute for mental health in England and they were rolling out a national program called delivering race equality in mental health where we were looking at bringing in quality for Bain people or BME people at the time , um, where we were looking for bringing a quality to the experiences of people from minority communities in the mental health system. Um, so I applied for that job and there was nine of us recruited from 250 people around the country. And again, each other , it was four interview processes and each time I got through each interview I was a bit like, Oh , okay, this is getting really serious. I might actually end up with this job. Really surprised to have got it. So that was the department of health stroke, department of health organization nymi that um, came in [inaudible] that came into my working life. And then that's when I came across mental health first aid along with for Nula and others, Caroline and others that have been in the mental health , uh , mental health first aid organization from the outset.Speaker 3:
Um, and if you were to look back at the , um, the experience of doing that work at the department of health, if they were sort of two or three things that you learned about inequalities and mental health, what would they be?Speaker 1:
I think first was the data. Um, good nurse, you know, so we created the count me in census, which run a for about five years, I think in this country, to take a snapshot on one day each year of who are the people that are in the mental health hospitals in our country. So every hospital inpatient unit had to participate. That was a real eyeopener that we actually didn't know before the count me in census, what the demographic , um, really look like. And then there was that real realization that people just felt really uncomfortable asking people their ethnicity. So that was a real eyeopener for me, that, you know, you could inject somebody in very intimate places as a nurse or as a mental health professional, but to ask somebody their ethnicity just didn't have the confidence. And it really demonstrated to me how much date, how, how much , um, confidence building it building we had to do in our mental, in the health system. Um, and I think we went a long way, but I think we still have a really big , um, piece to do around data collection and evidence base in the mental health world for , um, discriminated against communities. And even if we have that data, it doesn't often get put out there in the same way as other data does. Yeah . So data and evidence and research I think is really key. And I think there's a big gap between what we should have and what we do have and how we promote it and unapologetically so, and then, and then I think there's, the other bit was , um , opportunity. So I guess I , I had some great mentors who over the years have really looked out and open doors and provided opportunity . So I said Fiona who insisted that I should go into their list leadership course even though I was being a know it all, you know why I shit , why should I do this? But she had wisdom and knowledge that went that's clearly was about you really this would benefit you. And I think that was a repeated sort of um, opportunities for me. Where, where , you know, and then my, my next boss who was at nymi Richard Ford, he insisted that I should go and do a qualification cause I left school with GCCS and then had a career and then went and did my masters . I did an MBA and in my mid twenties but he , it was Richard that went, we need to build your CV up cause your really good but until people meet you they don't know that and people aren't going to meet you cause your CVS got no qualification in it yet. Your managing two, three programs here for us. So opportunity provided by people that noticed, I think is the other thing that I would say is really important. Um, yeah,Speaker 3:
be keen to come back to your experience of leadership as a British Bangladeshi woman. I'm a bit later, but you talked about finding out about mental health first aid , uh, whilst that the department of health and then have a , uh , a really powerful story of bringing mental first aid to England , um , and making uh , it, it known and recognized as a base of contribution. Just for some people won't know the story, some will, but if you could just, just tell us a bit about that story from pitching to department of health to , to leaving in 2018.Speaker 1:
Yeah, absolutely. So the great thing about that story is I always get all the credit for it and it actually wasn't, it wasn't just me at all. Um, so what happened was we had a program within the national Institute for mental health in England at nymi , which was called , um, mental health promotion. And within the eight regions, a number of us had responsibility to roll out whatever that program looked like. So at the time mental health promotion was really awareness raising campaigns. So there was the campaign time to change that. It sort of launched around that time. But what we noticed was there was no one doing anything around public education. So colleagues in the North East and Yorkshire , um, region met with colleagues in Scotland who were rolling out mental health first state and they were the second country after Australia to adopt mental health first aid. Um, and so we invited and when I say we nymi and invited , um, our colleagues from Scotland to come and deliver the two day mental health first aid course, and we are a team of eight of us, or they might have been even more than that, went along to experience it. And as soon as I sat down, it was just amazing. So you , you, you, you sat , I sat down and I thought this is so obvious and we can absolutely adapt this for England. So that experience led to England having a , a working group, which included me. We then spent a week in Sheffield, and I don't even know where this location was, but we didn't leave the building. I think it must've been chosen purposefully so that we didn't go anywhere. And the same guy that was the waiter was also the cleaner, was also the, I mean he , I think there was like triplets of, it wasn't there, but it was just this really bizarre venue. But we didn't leave the venue for a week. And our job was to take the Scottish materials and translate it English into the English materials and pull together a program. And that's when I met for Nula properly for the first time. Who's the COO of mental health first aid. I met Caroline, Jeremy Boden , Chris Morgan, who were all part of that original team. We had a lot of fun. Um, but we also came up with this thing that was, that we were also proud of. So that was the beginnings of mental health first aidSpeaker 3:
and, and so that was from within the department of health. And then at some point department of health was saying, we don't think this is something we're going to continue. So tell us the second leg of the journey.Speaker 1:
Yeah . So we then , um, we then we then all within our jobs , went back to our regions and started rolling out, testing out the mental health first aid course, London region for Nula . His region was the most successful cause she's brilliant. Um, and w and the Northeast Yorkshire and Humber region were really successful. Southeast was coming on board. Um, and then what happened was there was a decision made within the department of health that nymi was no longer going to exist. So all the programs within nymi including mental health first aid needed homes. So there were some programs, you know, when, when organizations disband change, some things continue thump , some things stop and some things , um, uh , have find another homes . So I was asked by, actually it was for Nula and um, a couple of the directors, Patty and Ian to , um, put an options appraisal together and um , come up with what mental health first aid could become. Um, I was doing the final leg of my MBA, my dissertation at the time. So I thought, great, actually this makes a great dissertation project. Two birds with one stone. So I, and Chris Morgan , um , who is one of our national trainers, worked on a proposal to go, these are the three options we think actually instead of outsourcing air or ending mental health first aid, we could set it up as a community interest company, which at the time was a really new model. I think it only been around for about two years. Um, and we, it was almost like a Dragon's den style thing. We had to go in and propose this , uh, this offer, this idea to , it was four directors start sitting in front of us. And to my surprise, they went, that's great. You've got nine months, three days a week to take it out of DH and set it up as a community interest company and [inaudible] and I wasn't expecting that. My , I thought my job was to give the proposal dissertation done, walk out the room. And it was a real moment of, okay, well, you know, there was no way I was going to say no, but I did go home and make lots of frantic calls going, Oh no , we're going to make this happen. You know, the proposal sounded great on paper, but is it, and people like for Nula were gray , you know, of course we can, the idea is solid. The maths and the paper that you put together is , is great. We'll support you. What do we need? How do we make that happen? So that's how I became the national director I think was my original job title. Um, Chris was, Chris Morgan was the business director cause we both went in together and did that piece of work. Um, and that, and we recruited one person who was our admin finance events, everything. And there was the three of us on a hot desk in London bridge. Yeah. That's that . The , that was the beginnings of mental health first aid. And then we registered it as a community interest company. Recruited a small board. Um, 10 years ago. Yeah, 2009.Speaker 3:
And so mental health first aid England , um , so unrecognizable now compared to that in, in 2009. And, and as you say , uh, lots of that down to other people, but lots of it definitely to your leadership. If you were to look back at that, I guess mental health first aid has been a disruptor . My knowledge of you is also that you like to challenge the status quo. So if you were to just look back and think about those dis the disruptive that it is and that it was , um, what was some of the highlights?Speaker 1:
Um, I think what was some of the highlights? I think when, when , um , the chief medical officer of Unilever drop me an email and when come and see me, I'd like to talk to you about rollout mental health first date across Unilever over three years. That was pretty good. I was like, wow, we, we've made enough noise for the chief officer who was a fantastic , uh , visionary woman. Um, and her name escapes me now, but I just , uh , I just remember walking into Unilever buildings thinking if we, if we can make this happen. And there was like , there was literally five of us in the team at the time. So that was really, really amazing moment to walk out and go, I think we're going to do this. I think that's going to happen and to say . And then I think another moment was, it was just before Christmas and we were looking to do a lot of work in the armed forces cause a lot of data had come out around the inequalities experienced by those that have um , served. Um, and we got a call , um, literally, I think it was the week before, you know, the, the Christmas holidays that [inaudible] still has for , as an organization. Um, and the phone call went, we'd like to train , um, however many thousand mental health first aid. We've got this much money. I think it was something like 200,000 to spend. Um, what can you do? And I remember staying up, you know , all weekend to write the proposal to get that in because it wasn't so much about the money, but it was about being able to work in a new sector and demonstrate the MHS wasn't just about people that were unwell, it was just progressing. So both of those examples were taken mental health out of the health system for me and put it in, in places where people didn't expect it to be that. And that goes back to that disruptor bit. So I think those two were definite highlights. I'll tell you another one that was a really, really big highlight. The first laptop I bought from HFA was with my own cap money for 150 quid. And it was one of those really tiny, awful thing . So I was working from this tiny thing forever. And eventually , um , our finance manager at MH FFA looked at it and went, do you want to get a new laptop? Cause I think we can afford it now. So I remember going down to wherever it was that it shop and buy egg, the first laptop and naming it Melvin . And go in. I have a laptop, I've arrived.Speaker 3:
That was another really good moment. Um, and I'm pleased that I was given a laptop on my first day. So thank you for all of your work. The challenging, the status quo isn't always easy. So there must also have been some moments, some of which you probably don't want to share, but are there any moments where you really had to kick on, kick on through?Speaker 1:
So I think there's been a couple of moments where where I've been reminded that I'm rocking the boats and that will being at very senior meetings where people have gone essentially, how dare you be in this space, this is our territory. And most of the time I've been able to ride that well. But there have been a couple of times, I think there's only ever been twice in my career that I've cried at work. And both of those have been in those last two years where I've gone, wow, you've just yelled at me across the table and there's seven or eight other people watching and actually that was acceptable and how am I going to manage that? Because, because actually what we were doing where , I mean one incident, I'm not going to go into the detail, but it was, we had, we had approached a sector and we were doing some really great work in this sector and people just were a bit like, who is this mental health first aid and who is that woman and how dare she be in the circles? And just made it known and questioned our credibility question , the numbers that we're trained. So instead of go in being authentic and going, I've got a real problem with this organization or celebrating and coming alongside us and being our allies just felt bullying was the way forward. So those were really tough moments. But actually the MHS team would just fantastic at holding me when things like that happened. And then there were other times where I'd turn up to meetings. I mean I turned up to a meeting in a very Regal place once and somebody handed me their coat to hang up as I'd walked in to take my coat off because they'd thought I was staff. So things like that happened quite regularly in the early days. They happened less so now. But , uh , in the early days, you know, it was, there was a lot of you are you really the CEO, that kind of questioning and that was quite, you know, holding your nerve through those kind of welcomes or introductions. Um, what tough, because then you have to sit down and sell them. HFE forgetting that somebody had just questioned whether you should be in that room at allSpeaker 3:
and you described it as a, as a welcome and certainly not a welcome that puts you at ease . I guess it'd be just interesting to talk a bit about being a British Bangladeshi , uh , woman , uh, as a chief executive because, you know, we all know that the social sector, like every sector has , uh , very few , um, black and Asian minority ethnic leaders. You are a very successful , uh, uh, chief executive , um, a very successful British Bangladeshi executive. Um, any particular insights about your own experience , uh, through that process or advice you would give to, to others who may have been like the younger you who thought, why am I being put on , uh , asked to go on a BME leadership program? Why not just the leadership program?Speaker 1:
Yeah, I , I think , um, you know, I, I always felt really lucky because of the people that I met around me and I , I think I'm a very optimistic person, so I always look at the glass as half full. Um, and I think that's really worked to build my resilience. So it's sometimes that naive city , so didn't really understand why some of the things were happening, but didn't spend too much time dwelling on it. Actually asked myself what it was that I wanted to happen and went for the people that were going to help me make that happen. Because I believe that the world is full of really great people. You just have to look to find them. And I believe that if we focus on all the things that aren't going right for us, we also attract the people that reinforce that message. Um, and that comes from years of therapy. You know, he has a therapy and coaching that um, I've been very privileged to have and that comes from having a mental health condition, which meant that I was open to those solutions to help my recovery. So sometimes having a mental health condition does have a positive because you go searching for solutions you wouldn't otherwise. And the benefits of that is that actually I know myself really well and I know that if I'm looking for a solution, if something's upset me or I feel discrimination, I spend more time trying to work out what it is that I wanted in that scenario scenario and who are my allies that are going to help me? And that's the number one bit of advice that I can give to anybody. Because when I've come across people that have repeatedly experience adversity, discrimination, not having the kinds of welcome that I've described is that you can get really bruised and battered from that. And if you then stay in that space of dwelling in it, it's , it's almost like your , you're repeating and inflicting the pain again and again on your self. And I don't think that's healthy for anybody's mental health. So actually work out your allies . Um , on that leadership course that I talked about, we learnt , um, the art of networking and your inner circle, your middle circle, your outer circle and who are in those. And I remember thinking at the time got this is a bit systematic and process-y for leadership development. Surely you just have human connection cause you have human connection. But it really, the art of networking is really, really important. And I would say to other British minorities or anybody that feels like they're not progressing, it's not, you need to look around you to see who are the people that you're surrounding yourself by and learn the art of networking because it's the people that support us that not just that help us get to where we want to get to or solve some of the issues that we're grappling with. It's very rarely books and courses and you know, digital information. It's usually other human interactions.Speaker 3:
And so you left mental health first aid England. Um, yeah . Have a thriving and, and very proud organization, fully formed social enterprise and went on to work at the city mental health Alliance, another job disrupting the status quo in many ways. Could you just tell us a bit about what the city mental health Alliance is doing?Speaker 1:
City mental health Alliance is a membership organization. It's made up of large corporates that employ more than 500 people, primarily in the financial and professional services sector. We exist in Hong Kong , um, and we're about to launch in Australia. In fact, I'm going out next Wednesday, I think it is to, to, to, to work on the launch , um , in Australia, which I'm chuffed to bits about. We've got about 50 member organizations in three countries and the vision is that our members will become a mentally healthy workplaces and that means everything from socializing mental health and wellbeing into the workforce. So people have a common understanding of what mental health is because actually you'll be very surprised that because we work in this bubble, sometimes I forget that some people, a lot of people still think mental health is mental illness. Um, the second thing is skilling up. So the work that people , organizations like mental health first aid and others are doing, how do you skill up your loan managers, your boards, your S , your employees at every level, but actually extend that to the families because we don't all, you know, we all have families and what happens to our families impacts us at work. So being able to develop that sort of social impact beyond work skilling up I think is really about that. And then it's that final piece which is sustaining it. What are we measuring? What are boards measuring? How do they know that change is happening and it's the right change? Bearing in mind that workplaces haven't done this before. I feel like it's our responsibility to work together, to create metrics to put back into the world the things that we know work, things that we know don't work. And also some of the companies that we're working in with, for example, HSBC are in 66 countries. There's a real opportunity to learn the cultural nuances that is going to work and be effective and put that information back into the world. So my vision is , um , global really if we've, if world health organization are saying that twin by 2030 mental health is going to be the biggest health issue in the world, then I feel like we've got a collective responsibility to work out well, build a movement, build a community that we're all going to work together or in this space fulfilling different parts of the jigsaw. So city mental health Alliance is just one part of that greater jigsaw that I think we'll need. Um, building as we change the world on, on , on what we think around mental health.Speaker 3:
Changing the world is a big, big thing to be taking on. And if anybody's going to be taking on their night , pretty sure that you'll do a damn good job. So talk to me about self care. How do you look after your yourself?Speaker 1:
Uh, so I love hot yoga. That's like my number one self care thing and I really recommend it. I just think every time I do a hot yoga class, I feel like I've had a massage. Um, I love spinning, so I try and do at least one 6:30 AM on a Monday class of , um, spinning. Um, I definitely connect with my friends. So I have at least one great non-work conversation a year, a week with a good friend, whether that's Skype on the phone, you know , um, in person when I don't have that, I really miss it. Um, what else do I do? I th I think those are probably the top three things. I'm, I , I like to write, so I have lots of stuff that I write that I'd never share with anyone. So, and it's, it's just part of my downloading. Um, and then my other other absolute obsession is, sorry . So I have a collection of salaries that are about 170 salaries and beyond. I have a whole room allocated to salaries at home. And I think that's probably my expression of , um, being creative and color and just something that's just doesn't have anything really to do with , um, my work but has a lot to do with my identity. Um, so yeah.Speaker 3:
Fantastic. And just the last question, really thinking about the future, if you were to, so a, have aSpeaker 1:
magic wand, but with only a couple of wishes in it that would take us some way on this journey of emotional literacy, self care, mental wellbeing, and better managing and dealing with a mental illness and , and , and health within our culture, what , what would you be asking for? I would, I would delete the feeling of shame that connect is connected with mental health, mental illness. I would, I would raise that from our experience in the world because if we did it feel shame, I don't think we'd have a problem.Speaker 2:
So I really enjoyed my conversation with poppy hearing about the early days of mental health, first aid England. Um, the sheer grit and determination that took an idea , uh, into , uh, the brilliant social enterprise that the organization is today. It was also interesting and important to hear about her experiences of leadership as a British Bangladeshi woman and the importance of fosters senior managers identifying people with talent and helping them to develop their skills and confidence. Thanks as always for listening. Please do subscribe. Please do rate leave a review, and thanks very much for continuing to cope with us.