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Corporate Care

As part of our commitment to reducing the stigma around mental health, we have chosen to introduce Mental Health First Aiders, who have undertaken an internationally recognised training course enabling them to spot the signs of mental health challenges.

Article by Jenn Barnett Director of Diversity & Inclusion and Wellbeing at Grant Thornton
Corporate Care

According to research, one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health challenge in any given year, and that’s just the people who are brave enough to speak out about it. At Grant Thornton we believe it's just as important to look after your mental health as it is your physical health, and to be able to talk about both with the same level of confidence. That’s why we chose to work with Mind and signed a ‘Time to Change Pledge’ to make commitments to prioritise the positive mental health of our people.

We know that everyone feels worried or anxious or down from time to time, and that stress, if prolonged, can be cumulative and ultimately very bad for our health, both physically and mentally. Some tough issues that we might face in life are temporary such as a divorce or a short illness; others however have a more lasting impact such as serious illness or longer term anxiety problems. We know stress gets in the way of thinking, relating to others, and normal day-to-day decision making. It can cause withdrawal from people, mood swings and anger, and physical problems such as stomach aches, back pain and insomnia. We also know it’s an equal opportunity issue. It affects young and old, male and female, and individuals of every race, ethnic background, education level, and income level.

As part of our commitment to reducing the stigma around mental health, and to build a supportive culture, we have chosen to introduce Mental Health First Aiders, alongside our Employee Assistance Programme, Employee Relations Adviser team, private medical scheme, local business partners and people managers. Those who are trained aren’t therapists, but are people with the ability to listen, reassure and respond, even in a crisis; they also have the skills to potentially stop a crisis from happening. Philippa Hill, a Forensic Partner in the firm explains why she  volunteered to be a mental health first aider: “Professional services is a demanding environment and we expect a lot of ourselves, and our people – everyone is busy and it’s easy to miss warning signs. Individuals may also feel reluctant to come forward with their difficulties. By training Mental Health First Aiders and promoting the support they can provide, we are making it clear that we expect people to experience challenges, whether at work or at home, and that we will be there for them when they do. 

“As a people business, it is essential that everyone feels supported and knows where they can go for help. I have, personally, really benefited in the past from having someone in the firm to talk to when I have been through tough times, and this is a great way of giving back and helping others, as well as contributing to an environment where mental health is openly discussed and recognised as an essential part of business and indeed of life.’’

Our volunteer Mental Health First Aiders have been trained by a Mental Health First Aid England approved instructor. They have been taught to recognise symptoms of mental ill health,  provide initial help, and then guide the individual towards appropriate professional support. They are advertised on our intranet to enable our people to contact them directly, and conversations are strictly confidential and on a one-to-one basis. We record the number of discussions that take place, and sometimes the type of topic or situation arising, to measure use, identify recurring themes, and assess the success of the role. We also have a support group for all first aiders to help them to continue to learn from each other. 

Amanda Nichols, a Manager in the Northampton office and a Mental Health First Aider, explains how her role is making a   difference: ‘I wanted to become a mental health first aider as I understand the impact poor mental health can have on everyone and how having someone to talk to can make a huge difference. I am very proud to work for a Firm that takes this issue seriously and is proactive in working with people to help recognise the signs of poor mental health and offering support for those who need it with no stigma attached.”

Matt Laverack a Senior Manager in our Information services department, talks about the personal effect the role has had on him: “I was primarily interested in the role to provide better support to my own and the wider IS team, as well as being an available resource to anyone in the firm. Undergoing the training made me more confident that I am saying and doing the right things and providing the best support I can at all times.

 “From a personal development perspective, I believe that   gaining that deeper insight into how to help people with mental health challenges helped me to become a better people manager, husband and dad. It has improved my coaching skills as I feel I have become more empathetic in my interactions with colleagues.

“The firm has done a lot to promote awareness with intranet campaigns and posters around our buildings highlighting who your MHFA’s are. We also have a coloured lanyard to let people know we are MHFAs. The firm has made it clear that we are not therapists, but are trained to listen and help get the right support, in which the firm has invested significantly.

“I have had a good number of conversations with people needing help and advice, as well as speaking with People Managers and presenting to entire teams. The main message is always the support is out there and our job is to listen and ensure the person is able to access the support they need, when it’s needed’’