WH Smith: changing the mindset around mental health

Speaking to The Retail Bulletin during Mental Health Awareness Week, Alison Garbutt, head of strategic projects at WH Smith, says a personal experience involving a colleague taking their own life as a result of a mental health problem prompted her to address the issue across WH Smith.

Action through personal experience

“Because of the stigma and lack of awareness we did not know what to do with mental health, which at its most extreme results in death. My colleague’s death showed how ignorant I was about mental health and the reaction of other people – suggesting they had been selfish – led me to want to raise awareness and reduce the stigma around it. I also wanted to raise mental health support to the same level as physical,” she explains.

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Garbutt came up with a strategic plan two years ago, having received sign-off from the WH Smith chief executive and understanding from the HR director, which involved raising awareness, reducing the stigma, and providing relevant training.

Raising awareness

Raising awareness was helped by a link-up with ‘Time to Change’ (that has been created by Mind and Rethink) that involved the chief executive signing a pledge with the organisation to end discrimination towards mental health.

Part of this has involved encouraging employees with contacts at schools to raise awareness within them and to also bring in authors of mental health books to do readings and signings, and hold fund raising events.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, WH Smith has also been creating an environment for its employees to share their stories about any mental health problems they faced and what specifically helped them. In addition, the company has launched two ranges of cards through its…