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14 Mar 2024
by Jazz Croft

Top tips for safely sharing employees’ mental health stories

Asking people to talk about their personal mental health challenges can be empowering both for them and their audience.

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Despite increasing awareness, mental health remains a heavily stigmatised topic in the workplace.

Your organisation offers wellbeing support, but uptake is low. You celebrate mental health awareness days, but people don’t really engage. Despite your efforts, mental health still feels like a taboo topic.

In the workplace, stigma can stop people from accessing tools to manage their mental health or seeking help.

Personal stories can break down some of these barriers, dispelling common misconceptions and offering hope. It can also be empowering for those sharing their story. Approaching this in a responsible and sensitive way can promote positive community discussion that can change lives.

Developing storytelling guidance

When Unmind launched its Real Stories project it invited its users, both at Unmind and within partner organisations, to share personal mental health stories. But before inviting people to take part, it took the time to develop in-depth guidance for safe storytelling.

This process was led by Dr Anthony Newton, a counselling psychologist at Unmind. He brings experience from the media industry where he has consulted on safeguarding for TV productions.

“Adhering to the principles of safe storytelling not only ensures the emotional wellbeing of both storytellers and listeners but also nurtures a culture of empathy, respect and understanding,” he says.

Unmind’s criteria for an empowering story

All stories should:

  • Offer messages of hope.
  • Empower the storyteller and the audience.
  • Consider the effect on the audience.
  • Managing the storytellers' experience

Before storytelling 

  • Help your storyteller prepare emotionally. Ask them to think about their own motivations and check in on their current emotional state. What are their expectations for sharing? Are they prepared for the emotional demands of telling their story and how they may feel afterwards?
  • Consider the narrative. Encourage your storyteller to think about the key points of their story that they feel could inspire others, as well as any details they might feel uncomfortable sharing.
  • Get consent. Make sure that your storyteller understands what they’re agreeing to, the process for sharing their story, where it will it be shared and what happens if they decide they want their story to be taken down.

During storytelling

  • Check the storyteller has access to support. This could be having someone supportive like a friend or trusted colleague present. It could also include any adjustments during the filming process to make them feel supported. ‍
  • Consider the language you use. The aim should be to de-stigmatise mental health issues and choose words that respectfully convey their personal experience.

After storytelling 

  • Check in afterwards. It can help to debrief after sharing. Ask the storyteller how they feel after the experience. Encourage them to make use of their support networks. ‍
  • Share the final content and give the opportunity to feed back. Make sure the storyteller is clear about what’s included in the final material (written or recorded) and give them plenty of time to consider the content and ask for changes.
  • Thank your storyteller. Sharing your mental health story is a generous thing to do. Make sure your storyteller feels appreciated and understands that their story will have an impact. As well as saying thank you, you might like to offer a small gesture such as a handwritten card or a donation to a charity of their choice.

Trigger warnings

Trigger warnings have become a common way to warn your audience that your content contains a sensitive or potentially triggering subject, but they can also be triggering themselves.

Unmind’s decision was to include a clear description of what the story contains, but not to use the terms ‘trigger warning’ or ‘caution’. This gives people the opportunity to make an informed decision whether to engage with the content, while avoiding causing unnecessary anxiety. ‍

Words hold immense power and by wielding that power responsibly, we can create stories that inspire, empower and connect us all.

In partnership with Unmind

Our vision is to create a world where mental health is universally understood, nurtured&celebrated.

Contact us today