“We are proud to be making a commitment to training our staff in Mental Health First Aid.” Stephen Clarke, CEO


Started MHFA training 
2016 

Staff trained so far 
150+ Mental Health First Aiders 
1,100 Mental Health Aware 


“We all need to look after each other and ourselves.” This is the mantra that is driving WHSmith, as the business delivers a comprehensive mental health wellbeing strategy to not only raise awareness of mental health issues and address the stigma surrounding them, but also provide mental health support to its staff. 

With around 14,000 employees, across more than 1,000 stores, three offices and three distribution centres, the retailer has worked tirelessly to ensure all of its 1,100 line managers receive MHFA training and that it has just as many Mental Health First Aiders as it does physical health first aiders. 


Why we train our staff in MHFA

“One in six employees suffer mental health issues, so it’s increasingly important that we have first aid provision for mental health too.”

Alison Garbutt, Head of Strategic Projects who is spearheading this agenda, says: “We have many physical first aiders at WHSmith, who are all trained to help colleagues in the event of something like a heart attack – but what happens if a colleague is having a panic attack? One in six employees suffer mental health issues, so it’s increasingly important that we have first aid provision for mental health too.”

Following the death of a friend who took their own life five years ago, Alison has been keen to understand what she could have done differently, if at all, to support her friend. “At the time, I was concerned that if I spoke to my friend about how he was feeling I might have made things worse. I now know this not to be true. A meaningful conversation, asking the right questions and listening, might have helped.”

After months of investigating and consulting on the best approach for the company to tackle mental ill health, WHSmith decided on a two-pronged approach to delivering a mental health wellbeing strategy: working with Time to Change to raise awareness of mental health issues and the associated stigma among employees, and working with MHFA England to provide training on how to support mental health in the workplace. 

Stephen Clarke, CEO of WHSmith, says: “I had the opportunity to meet with business leaders in Downing Street to discuss the need for a shift in attitude to people with mental health issues in the workplace. We are all very aware of how we can protect our physical health; but most of us aren’t so knowledgeable about how to look after our mental health. The workplace can be a vital drive for change in addressing this issue, which is why we are proud to be making a commitment to training our staff in MHFA.”


Results

The population of Mental Health First Aiders at WHSmith have reported an increase of almost 200% in knowledge and understanding around mental health.

WHSmith worked closely with MHFA England to create a tailored training model to suit the nature of the business, and now have six qualified MHFA instructors who deliver the training in-house alongside their day jobs. This model enables ongoing training to be delivered to meet demand as new people are appointed into managerial positions and as additional first aiders are required.  

With their robust delivery model, it comes as no surprise that WHSmith has achieved its target of matching the number of Mental Health First Aiders to physical first aiders across the business. These staff members have all attended an MHFA Two Day course, followed up by monthly meetings to network and keep their knowledge alive. The population of Mental Health First Aiders at WHSmith have reported an increase of almost 200% in knowledge and understanding around mental health.  

Meanwhile, over 80% of line managers and store managers have attended a Mental Health Aware Half Day course. MHFA England’s Line Managers’ Resource is widely circulated to help embed the knowledge after the training.   


What the future holds

Training is now in progress for High Street Store Managers, with a stretch target of the end of the financial year to complete the majority of the training. WHSmith’s ultimate aim is to have 1 in 10 employees trained in MHFA England skills. They remain focussed on balancing this ambition with ensuring that the rollout works for their employees, scheduling training at times that delegates are likely to be receptive and ensuring that the appropriate support networks are in place.