- Tell us about yourself & what led you to be an advocate for Mental Health?
My name’s Sophia Chambers-Dixon and I’m a Lead Engineer for a software security company in Sheffield. I’ve always been passionate about advocating mental health support within the workplace; there are many personal reasons why. I have three children – each of which has had complications during birth, including significant prematurity (12 weeks to be exact) and I’m also a type one diabetic, which creates its own struggles within day-to-day life. In my spare time, I run a non-profit organization that supports people getting into work, education and training opportunities, some of which have had their lives impacted through not receiving the support they needed. This doesn’t necessarily mean via a diagnosis; it can form from a situation such as being a young carer, struggling with finances and debt, etc. These conditions can spiral and it’s important that we recognise problems and support people when they need it most, helping them achieve their career goals and not allowing them to give up on themselves.
I believe it’s so important that we provide openness and availability when discussing mental health and wellbeing, which includes providing that safe environment for people to discuss it at work. It’s important that we eliminate any barriers and remove the cause for concern that’s produced with potential stigmas – I want to support this cause and show people that it’s OK to not always be OK.
- Help us understand why awareness of Mental Health continues to be so important in 2020?
Mental health wellbeing is just as significant as our physical wellbeing. We now live in a world of high achievements and Instagram-able lifestyles, which produce images of unrealistic achievements. It’s important that we acknowledge these struggles and support one another, now more than ever.
One of the most valued topics within the working industry is the infamous ‘burn-out’. We all want to achieve and produce our best work, but does that necessarily mean ‘burning-out’ by working longer hours? No. Time or quantity does not equal value or quality, and it’s important to recognise that. As a manager and someone with children, I sometimes find myself writing e-mails out of working hours – I will always make sure that there is a comment by the signature to stress: **I understand that I may send e-mails at inconvenient times, I do not expect a reply outside of working hours**. It’s very important that, as a manager, I don’t over-stretch my team, and that the individuals are having a good quality of work-life balance. I feel it’s an important part of managing a team, that you value your staff and their overall wellbeing – in and outside of work. It’s your job to effectively support them as much as possible.
- How should the tech industry change to address this?
One of the best ways that my job as an engineer has helped me is the ability to work from home one day a week. This allows me to still collect my children from school and still feel involved as a parent, but also allows me to work full-time. It prevents me from reaching my capacity or ‘burning-out’. For example, it allows me to attend diabetic-related appointments (less stressful) and also means a break from my daily commute. The remote-working change has been very successful for the tech community (from my experience) and I think it’s something that more sectors should become aware of / provide the opportunity when possible. Ultimately, it really does provide a better work-life balance, which is significantly proven to increase mental health wellbeing for individuals.
- How can others get involved?
At my current workplace, we have a team of dedicated individuals who provide a ‘Mental Health Support Network’. These individuals are qualified in Mental First Aid and continue to support anyone within the company that feels the need to reach out. What I particularly like about the current network is the range of individuals that are within the team; they range from HR to C-level executives, and I think that’s really something special. We have people at such a high position in the hierarchy supporting mental health and re-assuring the key message that ‘it’s OK not to be OK – we are here to help you’. I would like to see more companies get involved with Mind or similar charities and take the opportunity to educate their staff, and also obtain their own ‘in-house’ group of Mental Health First Aiders.