Mark Ogden

We sat down with Mark Ogden to talk about our Peer to Peer Support Network and what it means for our people.

Tell us a bit about your role

I was really fortunate to be elected as the first Chair of the Peer to Peer Support Network for Mental Health last year. My role is to work alongside the Diversity & Inclusion team and Chairs and Co-Chairs of the other people networks to make sure we have a consistent approach. I have a wonderful core team that manages the Network – Graham Carrington is the Co-chair and we have members from BT, Openreach, PlusNet and EE. Together we set the direction of the network, manage recruitment of volunteers and allies, arrange knowledge calls on many mental health subject areas (suicide, sleep hygiene, PTSD and fun ones such as the benefits of pets for mental health and we also publish a monthly newsletter.

Tell us about the peer to peer network and why it was created

To put it simply our volunteers are friends you haven’t met yet. Our Network (and it’s not mine, it belongs to all volunteers and allies) started as a local initiative in 2016 in my business unit where we recognised a gap in support that we could potentially help fill. I was part of a team of seven that created collateral, a website, governance and an approach that we aligned to Global Wellbeing Policy helping support 400 colleagues. We ran this for a few months before I dialled into a World Mental Health Day call hosted by Bruce Greenhalgh (which was amazing), I emailed Bruce that afternoon suggesting we should talk – we did the next day and he really liked what we had done. He mentored us for a year before we launched for BT UK in October 2017.

We are different from the other networks because of what we do and how we do it. To be a volunteer you must go through an induction process

  • Line manager and independent referee confirmation of suitability
  • Lived experience of mental health (personally or supporting a close family member)
  • Attend the Mental Health Awareness Course
  • Agree to abide by our Charter (approved  by Group Legal)

We don’t counsel - we are not qualified to do that and we impress on our volunteers that this is not permitted. We listen empathetically, we don’t judge, we signpost to areas of support such as employee assistance, the NHS and BT-approved organisations.   

We have met with several external major companies who were interested in what we do and how we do it – Unilever, Business in the Community, Barclays and the European Interagency Security Forum (whose members include over 100 of the world’s biggest humanitarian aid organisations).

How many members are there?

In four years we have grown from seven volunteers to just under 300 and about 200 Allies but the pandemic has meant we cannot train any new volunteers right now.

We have two volunteers in France and Switzerland and the vast majority of our volunteers are based in the UK and launched for BT Ireland last year – this is because to date, training has had to be face to face. We have a couple of hundred people awaiting training but have not yet been able to attend due to the pandemic. Anyone irrespective of grade, business unit or role can become a volunteer, just chat with your line manager first

Our allies are people interested in mental health but who may not have had the training or have the available time but can attend calls and help raise awareness and are located in Europe, the USA, Dubai and India. Anyone can become an ally just by asking!

How many people have the network helped this year?

Since we started formally recording we have to date held over 400 support sessions, investing 334 hours of time - we are aware that many informal support sessions go unrecorded (though we always encourage all volunteers to always log these sessions). This year we have run 106 support sessions totalling 102 hours of volunteering time – we have helped our volunteers through knowledge calls and building a community spirit. Any time we spend supporting our people can be logged against the volunteering codes – an indication of the commitment made by the organisation to the health and well-being of employees.

We won’t turn anyone away irrespective of where they are based – anyone who emails us will have a volunteer assigned to them, someone who has the same lived experience. You have to have experience of the impact of, for example, PTSD to understand and relate to someone who is also suffering from that condition. The core team will select a volunteer based on availability and the match of experience, link them up and the individual will get that friendly supportive conversation.

What advice would you give for anyone struggling with their mental health?

From my personal experience of stress and anxiety, the worst thing you can do is to suffer in silence, the best thing you can do is to reach out for help – just having someone listen to you, to what you are going through is an enormous help. We are really lucky in BT to have so many services available to us. It’s a brave thing to reach out for support but so necessary for your own well-being.

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