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Derek McKenzie: We all have a role to play in looking after our mental health and wellbeing

Derek McKenzie MRTPI is a Chief Planning Officer in local government and former Chair of RTPI Yorkshire. He is also a former member of the RTPI's Membership and Ethics Committee,  International Committee, and ICN Steering Group. 

Mental Health and wellbeing

These past few years have been challenging times for everyone with a mental health crisis that has swept across the nation. Although there appears to be a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, for many, things will never be the same again. This means that we have to adapt to new ways of working as best we can, and I believe that everyone is doing what they can to make this work.

My first RTPI blog in 2021 considered the subject of mental health and well-being in the work place, with a focus on town planners primarily in the public sector. It was triggered by my own observations of how working from home in response to the Covid pandemic was impacting on people’s ability to do their job due to stress and depression. It is commonly accepted now that this was largely due to having to adapt quickly to new ways of working, which for a whole host of reasons, did not suit everyone. High sickness levels in turn started to impact on service delivery itself, which did nothing to enhance the reputation of the planning profession.

Lessons Learned

My last blog was intended not only to highlight this issue, but to share lessons learned from  wellbeing workshops held by RTPI Yorkshire Region, which helped start conversations on mental health and wellbeing within the planning profession. It tried to get the message across that “mental health” was not a taboo subject, and that it was OK to talk about it, with the saying “It’s OK not to be OK” being widely used. Proof of this was the subsequent blog posted by Kath Haddrell, which shared her very personal experiences, which I believe helped raise the profile of the issue further, continuing that conversation. My blog was also something of a challenge to the RTPI to develop its understanding of how mental health is impacting on our members, and to be more proactive in this area.

Responding to the challenge

As far as responding to the mental health crisis is concerned, although the RTPI, like most other professional bodies, found itself in completely unfamiliar territory, it was open to exploring how it could support our members in new ways. At the time of my first blog, it had already created a mental health and wellbeing hub as a way of offering some support in this area, but it was recognised that more can and should be done.

I also want to stress that it’s not all about the RTPI in that we all have a role to play in looking after our own mental health and wellbeing, and this can be supported at many different levels. Some regions across the country have worked together in a proactive way to help improve well-being among public sector employees. A great example of this is the Liverpool City Region where last year its constituent local authority members put together a wellbeing programme including physical activities and some on-line chats/talks, which proved very successful. They also worked with RTPI North West to include private sector professionals in some events.

Wellbeing support

Since October 2021, the RTPI mental health and wellbeing hub has developed into a valuable resource, with lots of useful information. However, I am delighted to be able to inform you that the RTPI has launched a free wellbeing support helpline for its members (including students and retired members) that will be available 24/7. However, the scheme is restricted to the UK only.

In addition to a confidential helpline, members will have access resources such as webinars, factsheets, articles, videos and guides. There will also be self-help programmes and on-line health checks. The service is being provided by Health Assured, and there is an app that can be downloaded by scanning the QR code. Full details are available here.


Like most things, positive change does not just happen by itself, and there are individual RTPI employees that I would personally like to thank, not only for the support they have given me, but for the role they have played in the RTPI in helping it reach this point. These include Martine Koch – Head of Membership, Sarah Woodford – Head of English Regions, Rachel McLinn – Member Engagement Manager, and Sarah Richardson, RTPI Yorkshire Region Coordinator. I would also like to thank the Membership and Ethics Committee for taking this new area of work under its wing and making it a priority for the RTPI.

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