Time to Change is a charity organisation led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness who are working to change the way we think about mental health. They have been working with the public and employers for the last ten years to try and shift society’s attitudes towards mental illness, and their employer pledges are one step in encouraging organisations to change how we all think and act about mental health in the workplace.
At WHSmith, we are pledging to train up volunteer staff members to become mental health first aiders, with the commitment that we will have as many mental health first aiders in place as we do physical first aiders by the end of the year. Head of Strategic Projects and the leader of the mental health initiative at WHSmith – Alison Garbutt – commented, ‘The thing that I’ve learned from becoming a first aider is, we can’t fix things when it comes to mental health first aid, but we can do something for ourselves and others, and for the generations that follow. Bearing in mind that one in four of us will experience mental ill health in any year, we really must do something about it.’
Our second commitment is to train all line managers to better understand mental health so that they’re in a position to provide appropriate support when needed. Commenting on our plans to meet this commitment, Time to Change director Sue Baker said, ‘About half of the population that we talk to with mental health problems say that they’ve experienced discrimination at work, and even more from their family and friends. So it’s people that know you, that work with you, that love you; that don’t really know how to respond to you. And that’s what we call stigma and discrimination. So I’m delighted that your action plan is incredibly thorough, 10/10 for that, Alison and team.’
And reflecting on both the commitments we’ve made during the Time to Change Pledge and our continued fundraising for the charity Mind during our 225th anniversary year, WHSmith CEO Stephen Clarke said, ‘It’s one of the things that I’m most proud of in my thirteen years at WHSmith, and if at the end of it we can genuinely be a good place to work for people who either have mental health issues them self or have mental health issues in their families, then that would be a really good icon for us and I hope we will achieve that.’
On pledge day itself we held a depressed cakes competition (see some of the fantastic submissions in our gallery below) with the cakes available to buy for a donation to Mind, and a raffle to win the top three cakes as chosen by Sue Baker. WHSmith staff were also each given a silver sharpie to make their own personal pledge to take steps to address mental health in the workplace. Alison Garbutt explained, ‘I would really like you to accept that you don’t have to be an expert to talk about mental health, that’s one of the things I learned, but just do something like commit that you’re going to ask someone how they are and really listen when they answer. So maybe don’t ask them when you’re running past in the corridor, and especially if it’s someone that you’re concerned about, make sure you’ve found an appropriate place to have that conversation. But you don’t have to be an expert to do that. That might be the type of thing that you want to put on your pledge sheet. And I think we can all make a difference through doing it.’
As well as witnessing Stephen Clarke and Sue Baker signing the Time to Change pledge with gold sharpies, and enjoying some delicious homemade cakes, WHSmith staff gathered together to hear Sue give a speech on stigma and discrimination. After an exercise in which she established that no one in the room would feel comfortable talking about depression if applying for a new job, Sue commented, ‘It depends whether you can trust an organisation, which is why things like today’s pledge are so important, because it makes a very public commitment and statement that you won’t discriminate, that you will be tackling stigma and you can expect to be treated fairly. I’d like to see other people in the retail sector follow your very, very good example.’