Alastair Campbell, Writer, Communicator and Strategist, Time to Change Ambassador

Alastair who is a Time to Change Ambassador, a charity set up to end mental health discrimination, has a new documentuary due to be aired on 21st May at 9pm, BBC2. We look back to when he spoke to FE News about the importance of leaders being aware of their mental health and wellbeing, and the steps they can take to cultivate the mental health and wellbeing of themselves and their staff:

When the Association of Colleges ask me to speak at their conference they said, "We want you to talk about education, what's changed in the last Twenty years, we want you to talk about Brexit, but really we want you to talk about mental health.” That's good!

Student wellbeing

I think they were still coming at it from the perspective of their students, which is obviously very, very important.

I think there is something going on with the younger generation at the moment that we haven't quite got our heads around. You know the sort of the easy cliched thing is, it's always all about social media, and likes and popularity, and all that. It might be related to it, I don't know, but there's something else going on. The level of anxiety, the level of self-harm, all this stuff, there is something else going on, I think.

Wellbeing of Leaders

I think the other place to come at it from is the wellbeing of the people who are running the organisations, and the people who work in them.

If you throw in some of the challenges they've got at the moment, particularly in relation to funding, in relation to workload, you know you've got to be really careful you're not working in a kind of stress laboratory where the conditions make for very, very high levels of stress.

I think is important to say that I think pressure is good. But when it strays into stress that can become very, very bad and it is a delicate balancing act to get that right.

Pressure = good, stress = bad. Sometimes the journey from pressure to stress can go very, very quickly.

I'm making a TV documentary on this kind of theme at the moment, and I think we all have to work out our own strategies.

Time Management

So, for example, if I think about the very nice guy that was driving me up today, he said to me, "How old are you?" I said, "I don't know, have a guess".

He said, "I don't know you've been around a long time, what 42?" I said, "I'm 60", he said, "You're not!" he said, "How do you manage to look young?" Now I don't know if I look 42, I probably don't.

I think there are certain things that I've tried to do, and the older I get the more I try to do them, which I just think are fundamental: exercise, diet.

Not eating crap, not drinking too much, fruit all that stuff, drinking loads of water, sleep incredibly important. I mean I'm knackered today because I just got off an overnight flight. I normally will absolutely make sure I sleep enough.

I think people find it very difficult to manage their time. So actually, being focused on how you are managing your time, and actually asking yourself, not every day, but every now and again, just sitting down and saying, "Am I using my time well?"

Establishing a personal strategy of wellbeing

People often say to me, "How do you have time to take keep a diary?" Well I find the time. I don't do other stuff.

Or they say, "Do you really go to every Burnley game? That's like a day a week!"

Well it might be, but it's four hours either way that I can think through, and I can work. So then actually, it's a day out, but I'm not just seeing it as that.

At the end of it I feel I've worked, and I've rested, and I've played. It sounds like the Mars Bar ad doesn't it, "Work, rest and play".

I would say all these things are a part of my very personal strategy of wellbeing:

  • Diet
  • Sleep
  • Exercise
  • Work
  • Family
  • Sport
  • Burnley
  • Bagpipes
  • Listening to music
  • Reading

You could say, "Well that just sounds very, very busy" but actually I need all of those things for my wellbeing.

Focusing on your own wellbeing strategy

Other people have to switch off. I tend not to switch off, I'm always kind of whirring away. Other people, you know we're all very different, they need to switch off, so they should switch off, and they should turn the phone off.

I've actually only just started turning my phone off now when I go to sleep. I've never done that till quite recently. Every now and again when I go for a run, usually I take my phone, but I've started every now and again not to. I think that's just again just a little coping mechanism.

If I'm going to run, I want to run. If I'm going out on a bike ride, that's what I'm doing, I want to focus on that.

I do think it's important for people in any positions of leadership, and any positions where you could get very, very stressed in your work.

There aren't many more stressful professions I think than teaching. It's important, it's pressured, you're dealing with a lot of people, a lot of relationships.

I think it's really important to recognise this up top: "I need to focus on this, I need to think about it, I need to plan."

Build an emotional support network

I think the other thing is that's really important is to build relationships and trust with colleagues, so that you can look out for each other.

So that you don't feel pressured if somebody comes up and says, "Are you okay? You know you seem a bit out of sorts, or you seem a bit tired, or you seem a bit stressed and anxious".

Having other people that you will feel fine about them saying that is really important.

Alastair Campbell, Writer, Communicator and Strategist, Time to Change Ambassador

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