6 questions about mental health & wellbeing with Magdel Hammond

28 Oct 2021

Magdel Hammond is the National Manager for Mind & Body – a peer-led, mental health provider that delivers support, advocacy, training and professional supervision services. Magdel is passionate about ensuring people with lived experience of mental distress, addiction and marginalization are given equitable opportunities in leadership development, in peer and lived experience workforce development, and ensuring the peer and lived experience workforce supports transformation across the wider sector.

We asked Magdel six questions covering mental health and wellbeing, leadership and responding to impact of covid 19.

What are some of the most important mental health and wellbeing principles and practices you’ve relied on in your career, and more broadly from a personal perspective? 

I have been very heavily influenced by the peer support approach to working and responding to both my own and other people’s life experiences. One part I have worked with is finding ways to make meaning out of “messy” situations. Both for myself and many peers I have walked alongside, talking about it is one way to make meaning of situations that feel messy, chaotic, or muddled. Talking about it with someone you trust can make all the difference. 

In our line of work, as peer workers, we support people to talk through some of the situations we want to make meaning out of and find the purpose to it and gain some learning from it – whether it is learning about what could be done differently or learning about how we learn to see the world and respond to the world. Making sense of things means that we don’t allow the struggle, messy situation, or painful experience to have the last say, and to grow in our strength. But, talking about it is key.

I also believe that relationships are essential – ones we trust and ones that don’t see people as broken and needing rescuing. Relationships that allow people to grow their strength. For many people, relationships might have caused hurt, harm, or pain and it influences how people then relate to others and whether they trust enough to share when they are in pain or hurting. Relationships that have equality to them, where we share in mutual ways, and where we can learn to trust, to share, and to learn together makes the biggest difference. A relationship of trust with a peer who “has been there, done that, got the T-shirt” creates a space that feels far safer than one where we might worry that the person, we are talking to won’t understand or will judge us for our responses to the hurt, pain or even chaos we are experiencing. 

Purposeful peer relationships have always made a difference in people’s lives. What is important in these relationships is they are truly mutual, and that one person does not have a position of power over the other. Power can destroy relationships and trust.  

Choice is incredibly important too – choice of resources and having access to a range of resources or options that work, rather than have one approach, medication, therapy, service, etc. forced as “the way”. Giving people the choice of who they want to talk to, what approach they would like to take to their wellbeing journey, how often, where, when, or why. Options and choices give people the opportunities to try things they might otherwise not have explored and to find things that might work better than what is “prescribed”. 

And HOPE…such an incredibly important part of the jigsaw of navigating mental wellbeing. Sometimes it’s about sharing my own story of living through some tough times, surviving, and thriving. Other times it is about finding hopeful moments and supporting peers to find those for themselves and embracing those moments for themselves. With hope, we see the opportunities, embrace relationships and trust, and find ways to make meaning of things that at times might feel hopeless. Hope also keeps me grounded in the belief that everyone can grow, learn, develop, move towards the life they want and that a single experience, a messy time, a state of chaos, a sense of hopelessness can be momentary or time-limited.  

How does that translate to your leadership?

I see myself as filling some space in the Lived Experience leadership sector – a place of standing in leadership borne from a place where I am seen and accepted as a leader by peers and others because of my own life experiences of mental distress, messy times, and hurt, but also from my own experiences of learning, growing, and developing because of those experiences; of using those experiences to bring about change within a system that might not always work well. Leadership in the Lived Experience space is about seeing the messy situations, seeing the system that creates or perpetuates messy situations and addressing those by supporting others (operating within the system) to see the opportunities to do things differently, to support the system to change and strengthening a system for the better. 

It is also about supporting people who are new to the sector, who want to shake things up but might not quite have the right tools in their toolkit yet, to grow their toolkit. It’s about seeing the worth of others when they don’t see it themselves and supporting and encouraging them to create pathways that are easier to navigate together than alone. It’s about always knowing that change within the system and people’s attitudes and behaviour is easier to address within strong trusting relationships than adversarial ones. And it is about always being positive, hopeful and future-focused as a leader and in that way also being of service to not only people we support but to the teams I lead. 

What are the ways you’ve found most useful in terms of creating opportunities for people and teams to connect and kōrero?

Both formal and informal ways have worked. The best way I have personally experienced is with a CEO who held “listening clinics”. I then implemented with teams what I call “Time on the Couch”. I had a big couch in my office (when I had my own office) and every month I would forward a time to all staff that was booked out (and nobody else could book or change that time) for people to come and talk. I would only listen and ask clarifying questions, but never give advice or tell people what I thought would be best. This translated into some team leaders adopting a similar approach and making time for each other as peers and spending time talking. 

Another approach that has worked really well is to formalise voluntary peer support where there was a squad of people (colleagues) trained to be peer supporters at work and have a set amount of their time spent talking to colleagues as peer supporters and encouraging a trusting mutual relationship that allowed people the safety to talk about what is going on and access some support. In one instance this also led to a peer support group outside of work for people who struggled with anxiety and depression, and another started a walking group at lunchtime – while talking about things! 

What are some of the most effective ways you have seen people and organisations put in place to address the additional mental health and wellbeing challenges associated with life under Covid 19 restrictions?

There’s been a wide range of ways within my organisation and others, including: 

What leadership priorities do you think we need to focus on if we are going to make a meaningful impact in addressing loneliness in Aotearoa?

The pandemic has shown me personally that staying connected to colleagues, friends and whānau is essential as it creates meaning in our lives. The factor of isolation due to lockdown has had a significant impact on some people who live alone, but it has allowed us to focus on finding ways to create meaningful times to connect and to not rely only on time in the office to stay connected with team members. A phone call at the end of the day or on a Friday afternoon has made a huge difference for some people who would spend the rest of their weekend alone. 

As leaders, I believe we need to not shy away from the conversation about loneliness, as it is epidemic and ultimately impacts work satisfaction, productivity, and kaimahi engagement. We know that people who are lonely are more likely to think of resigning from their jobs than those who are not or who are well connected within their communities. 

We need to not stigmatise loneliness and as leaders need to address the issue where loneliness is seen in the same light as we would see other wellbeing issues. And, something I have learned over the years is that our own show of vulnerability as leaders, and talking about our own experiences of loneliness is essential in “normalising” the experience and allowing people to see that they are not alone in this.  

We also need to find ways that will allow engagement to be substantive and focus on both the quality and quantity of engagement opportunities. Quality is important, but if it happens only once a year it won’t necessarily have the impact we desire, nor does it help to have 52 opportunities but of poor quality. The balance of quality and quantity is important. As leaders, I think we need to address this in structured ways that will allow things to develop naturally to go beyond the formalised as well as beyond the mere pleasantries we sometimes see. Finding a way to bring people together who share interests, hobbies, passions would be a fantastic way, plus allowing them to do some of this in work time.  

Loneliness NZ offers loneliness prevention programmes for groups. It might be a great idea for leaders to engage with Loneliness NZ to ensure we are well equipped to deal with these issues in our workplaces and to support the organisation or company we lead in growing its responsiveness to loneliness. We need to have the confidence to talk about it and to coach and mentor others to do this as well. And, if we want to address loneliness as a country, we need to stand together and not deliver things in fragmented ways, but campaign the government and Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission for a whole of Government 

response alongside its response to Mental Health and wellbeing. 

In the context of mental health awareness, what are the three most important questions we should be focusing on right now?

How can we best address the pervasive prejudice, discrimination and self-stigma about mental Health and Addiction? 

How can we make access to peer support and opportunities to talk more available to people whose lives are affected by stress and distress?

How can we, as leaders, show our own vulnerability in ways that will make it ok to talk and ask for help?