World Mental Health Day: Just Ask

 Today (Wednesday 10th of October) is World Mental Health Day. Every year, 1 in 4 people experience mental health difficulties, and sometimes you just need someone to talk to.

We spoke to Mark Bendall, a volunteer for Just Ask, about how the network supports staff and promotes good mental health at work.

Can you tell me a bit about what Just Ask does?

We are a group of volunteers, independent from the University, who are trained to provide non-judgmental, confidential advice to staff. We are a stepping stone for staff, to give them a chance to explore their options without going through the more formal University channels.

Our volunteers are excellent. A mixture of long standing and newer volunteers that were recruited two years ago, they have gained lots of training and experience, meaning they are sensible and really know what they’re doing.

Why do you feel Just Ask is so important to staff?

While we aren’t a counselling service, and only usually offer one meeting, maximum two, we still have an enormous impact on those we speak to. Many who speak to us have had our service recommended to them by colleagues, which shows the impact we’ve had.

For many, it is the first time they are able to speak about their problem, and it gives people a space to fully express their concerns and emotions, without fear of judgement. We hope that people see the service as something that’s there for them when they need it, and that the advice we give is empowering and provides a sense of control.

Can you tell me a bit about how Just Ask came about?

Initially, we were two separate volunteering groups, one which helped with bullying, and the other with stress. When we came together, we sat down and discussed what we would be, and broadened the areas in which we offer support. Until recently, we have been looked after by HR, but are now an independent volunteering group under the University Health and Safety Service.

Why did you choose to volunteer for Just Ask?

I had been active in trade union and while part of the union, I developed an interest in helping people with bullying at work. Here, I saw that there were often cases where people felt that they were being bullied, but by talking to them about the situation I was able to help them see if this was really the case and understand their situation more clearly. This was something I hoped I could do as a Just Ask volunteer.

Where would you like to see the network go in the future?

Because we have moved under the Safety Office, as part of the University’s broader wellbeing strategy, this has made Just Ask much more robust and will allow us to do a lot more for staff and have more regular meetings for the volunteers.

We also hope this new structure will promote the service more, and allow us to reach more people.

If you’re a staff member at Newcastle University and would like to find out more about Just Ask, or other resources the University offers to promote staff wellbeing, please click here.

Alternatively, if you’re a student and feel you need some support, you can contact Nightline or the Student Wellbeing Service.