Please note this case study was developed using an older version of the RMHC. The action referred may not align with the 2024 RMHC.

Why did Southeastern develop the mental health advocacy programme?

Although Southeastern had a range of support services in place, such as an employee assistance programme (EAP), railway chaplain and trained mental health first aiders (MHFAs), it was identified that several colleagues were struggling in the workplace yet not seeking help. To ensure their immediate needs were met, Southeastern developed a company specific peer-to-peer programme - a system where staff can seek support by talking to a colleague (advocate), who understands the pressures of the rail industry first-hand. This conversation enables the advocate to signpost the individual and assist them in deciding what to do next in their efforts to seek support.

Southeastern also recognised this as an opportunity to provide a support network that would give colleagues the confidence and security they required to come forward. While, at the same time, collecting data to inform the development of the programme to reflect the needs of colleagues. 

What is the mental health advocacy programme?

The programme recruits volunteers with a passion and commitment to help their colleagues. Anyone who is struggling, whether at work or in their personal lives, can speak to the volunteer advocates. As most of the volunteers do not have any prior experience in this area, they undertake extensive training which provides them with a British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) level 2 accreditation. This helps the advocates to have the knowledge and skills they need to best support their colleagues.

Southeastern posts advocates’ profiles on their intranet, this includes a photo and a summary of who they are and why they became an advocate. The profiles help colleagues know who they can talk to and ensures they are easy to reach. Colleagues can engage with an advocate via several routes: calling or messaging the advocacy programme phone number, or by emailing their email address – 9% of engagement is done anonymously via messaging. Southeastern encourages advocates and colleagues to meet in a more engaging format, such as face-to-face, so that better support is provided, and the process can be more effective. 

There are systems to support the advocates should they need it. Yet, it has been noted that this is rarely required. Since, its inception in 2018, 1,500 colleagues who have engaged with the programme of which there has been only four incidents where there have been elevated concerns for welfare. Southeastern have a clear risk escalation process to ensure advocates know who to contact if concerns arise.

How was the programme set up?

Initially Southeastern used the experiences of the Mental Health Lead who had struggled with poor mental health in the workplace to develop a proposal for their Executive Board. The Board agreed to run a pilot of the programme. Additionally, they worked with other organisations in the industry, such as the railway chaplain, to receive feedback and support. The success of the pilot led to the programme being introduced into Southeastern.

Through close relationships with support services, for example: Able Futures, The Railway Benefit Fund, community interest companies and many more, advocates can signpost colleagues (and their families) to relevant information. Southeastern highlights the importance of building such relationships so that they can exchange feedback, making sure the programme runs effectively.

Why is collecting data important?

Southeastern uses a robust process to record data on the advocacy programme. The system is quick and easy, advocates use a series of codes to identify and record the critical aspects of their meeting with a colleague, such as reason for intervention, stress factors and where the person was signposted to. The coding system allows data to be collected while maintaining confidentiality and allows for new ideas to be proposed with data that backs up these decisions.

The date collected enables, Southeastern to address concerns indirectly at weekly meetings where the most prevalent issues are discussed. Relevant material, such as factsheets and newsletters are then produced, reminding Southeastern colleagues where they can find support.