Listed: Better Mental Health with Jo Cottell


Jo Cottell, CEO of Guernsey Mind, is a modest lady with a strong work ethic who has always championed mental wellbeing. Working in a variety of corporate roles, Jo has always been a people person with a strong sense of compassion, juggling work commitments with her voluntary role as a Samaritan whilst also raising her family.

From her first job in her parents' hotel to her current role heading up one of the Bailiwick's most high profile charities, Jo tells us how her career progressed and she shares her thoughts on how attitudes to mental wellbeing in the workplace have changed.

She also talks about how she manages her work/life balance... with both bees and bootcamps, amongst other things!

Jo Cottell is Listed.


Jo Cottell 2


“When I suggested some awareness training to combat poor mental health in his company, one workplace Chief Executive told me that they ‘don’t have any of that here’. Thankfully, most business leaders have a greater understanding now”


Growing Up In Guernsey

People who know me best will know that the thought of talking about myself is pretty daunting. I’m much happier behind the scenes, letting others have the limelight. But I also understand that as part of my role as Chief Executive of Guernsey Mind, some people may want to know a bit about who I am. 

I was born and brought up in Guernsey and went to the Vale School and then Ladies’ College. My parents ran a hotel and from an early age I was surrounded by adults and really enjoyed talking to the guests about their holidays and being able to tell them about all the lovely places they could visit. I clearly remember one guy telling me about a great day he’d spent on the beach at ‘Va-zoon’, which still makes me smile. Hospitality can be a tough industry with long hours and I think that seeing my parents’ strong work ethic definitely rubbed off on me. I was waitressing and making beds very early on, and serving behind the bar once I was old enough!


A Developing Social Conscience

I left school after my A-Levels and joined what was a burgeoning financial sector in the 1980s. I’d never been that keen on the idea of university and wanted to get out to work - I’m not sure back then that this went down too well at school! I worked for a couple of years in a local bank but I got a bit disillusioned with what I saw as making rich people richer and so I joined the Civil Service and initially worked for the Public Assistance Authority alongside the Job Centre. This was a time when unemployment was very high on the island, so the role was a challenging one. I think this was when I began to develop my social conscience, learning first-hand about some of the difficulties people had to live with on a daily basis.  


No Place For A Woman!

My career then took a bit of a turn when I moved into recruitment, eventually moving to the Guernsey Post Office as its first Personnel Manager, where I stayed for eight years. I really enjoyed working for a very different organisation, facing the challenges of a heavily unionised workforce within a male dominated culture. There were definitely some there at that time that didn’t see it as a place for a woman! Luckily, thinking has changed a little bit since then, and I was lucky to have a very supportive Chief Executive. He encouraged me to study for formal HR qualifications, something I still hold as a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD. 

I got married and I had my first daughter while working at the Post Office, and I went back to work in HR in the private sector after my second daughter was born, working with more flexible hours when the girls were young. Both of my daughters are now coming to the end of their professional studies and higher education.


Life As A Samaritan

I trained to be a Samaritan in the 90s after hearing someone talking about it on the radio and thinking that maybe I could offer something to the charity as so much of my experience involved ‘listening’. I’ve been a ‘listening volunteer’ off and on since that time and I think it’s a real privilege when people call and share their thoughts and feelings, and that maybe by just listening and supporting them you may be able to help them find some ways to manage their distress. Certainly my time as a ‘Sam’ has opened my eyes to the real struggles that many people experience. This has also given me an insight into how poor mental health can impact on an individual’s life on so many levels, and if they are not supported properly at work. I have to say that it has probably made me pretty unshockable too..!


The Importance Of Kindness

What was clear during my HR career was how important it is to treat everyone with kindness and compassion, even when times are difficult. Everyone feels better and works better when they feel supported, and are treated as individuals. I’ve worked with many great managers but also some not so great ones, and as HR Manager I have often had to pick up the pieces. I think this definitely helped me make the decision to move into the charity sector, where I thought I could give something back to people that needed support.


Jo Cottell Mind


My Move To Guernsey Mind

I joined Guernsey Mind in 2015. I’d been looking for something more community focused for a while, and a chance meeting with the then Chief Executive Emily Litten at a conference resulted in me being offered a new role developing workplace wellbeing. The aim was to support managers to more effectively manage the mental wellbeing of their staff, and create more positive working environments. Amongst other things, I ran training courses for managers and staff relating to mental health and provided advice on how to adopt simple, practical tools to keep staff at work and I continue to deliver Mental Health First Aid training - a course we've been running since 2017. 

I must also thank Emily for ‘encouraging’ me to do quite a few things I’d never usually have done, Carpool Karaoke at the West Show being one memorable example! Emily is also responsible for persuading me to talk to the media when I really would have preferred not to. (Editor's note: Thank you, Emily!)

I took over the role of Chief Executive in January after Emily decided to move on to focus on new challenges. We’ve been really lucky to have her drive the charity forward, and my role now is to refine the services we offer and to help ensure we’re providing the best services we can for the community, working in partnership with both the States services and the Third Sector for the benefit of everyone in the Bailiwick. It’s a busy role and initially I’m talking to lots of people to really understand the challenges ahead. I’ve got a great team here in Guernsey, and in Alderney too.  We’re all really committed to helping people keep as well as they can be.

Changing Attitudes To Mental Health

One thing that’s been great to see over the last five years or so is the changing attitudes around mental health in the community. There is still stigma, but it’s reducing. Back in 2015, when I suggested some awareness training to combat poor mental health in his company, one workplace Chief Executive told me that they ‘don’t have any of that here’. Thankfully, most business leaders have a greater understanding now. Employers are already seeing the benefits of being more aware of good mental health practices in the workplace and there’s a sound business case for adopting positive practices too. Businesses with strong wellbeing strategies report improved absence figures but also higher morale and reduced turnover figures. 


Jo Cottell Bees


The Work/Life Balance

Of course, we all know that we have to practice what we preach and the challenge of a good work / life balance is there for me too. I know that it’s important. My latest hobby is gardening - although I think my version is best described as ‘wild gardening’ - and I started growing veg during lockdown.

We also have bees. They are such interesting insects, and tending a hive can be a really mindful pastime over the summer. I’m an avid reader, a bit of a walker with Tia, the dog, and I love sewing and family history research when I have time. I’ve also recently been encouraged to go to bootcamp with Get Fit Guernsey by one of my colleagues. I definitely think I’m fitter now than I was before the pandemic so I’m going to try to keep that up!   


We have teamed up with Guernsey Mind to bring you expert advice on mental health and wellbeing, as well as raise awareness of the work that the team do on the island. Our goal is to work together to help the people of Guernsey make their wellbeing a priority, to learn how to look after their mental health at all times and to know when (and how!) to ask for help.

Keep up to date with the work we do together here.

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