Opinion
Wendy Walton 14 May 2019 01:18pm

Bearing it in mind

Since 2001, the Mental Health Foundation has been the driving force behind mental health awareness week which is currently taking place from 13 to 19 May this year

According to the mental health charity, Mind, poor mental health affects half of all employees in the UK. It is quite a shocking thought if you look around your place of work and consider the fact that it is likely that half of the people you see are impacted by some form of mental health challenge.

With this statistic in mind, it has never been more important to shine a spotlight on mental health, and to help create a society where there is no longer a stigma associated with speaking up about challenges relating to mental wellbeing.

However, awareness and understanding of this type of health problem is only the first step. Action needs to be taken by employers to help support their employees and ensure wellbeing is top of the agenda. Having worked in the accountancy profession since the age of 18 and climbed the ladder to partner and member of the leadership team at BDO, as well as having children, I am well aware of the pressures that can sometimes come with a job in this field.

Tight deadlines and the need to juggle multiple clients with different requirements and expectations can put a lot of stress on an individual, and I myself had what I refer to as a “wellbeing intervention” a number of years ago. That is when I had to admit to myself that something had to give.

I began to take my husband’s advice and started to go running with my friends. Needless to say, I have caught the running bug and I am extremely proud to say I even ran the London marathon in 2017! I am now a firm believer in the advantages of exercise for both physical and mental health, so see real benefit in initiatives such as our annual football tournament and “Step Challenge” that encourages employees to reach 10,000 steps a day as an individual or in teams for 30 days.

At BDO we have invested a huge amount in what we call our “wellbeing strategy” and have wellbeing champions in all 17 of our office locations. Their role is to ensure that our messaging and activities around wellbeing are being heard and actioned throughout the firm.

It is important to acknowledge that sometimes work-related stress is inevitable, particularly if you are an individual who gets stressed easily. In 2018 we made the decision to offer “performance under pressure training”, also known as “resilience training”, to all of our 5,000 employees by the end of June this year.

There may also be times when someone is in need of support but we can’t necessarily see it. Mental health should be treated as seriously as a person’s physical wellbeing. Every member of our culture board (a group of people overseeing long-term discussions about how to protect and celebrate what makes our culture special), including myself, has undertaken mental health first aid training to help them get a better understanding of these issues and how they may impact us both inside and outside of the workplace.

By the end of 2019, we plan to have mental health first-aiders in each of our 17 locations just like you would physical first-aiders, and while they may not be able to spot every issue their peers might be having, they will be much better equipped to assist with anyone who may need support in the workplace.

Awareness of mental health is increasing, and hopefully this week we will be seeing plenty of green ribbons to mark this important event. But, as I have said, awareness is nothing without action and I am proud to be a part of a firm which has made mental health and wellbeing a priority, and will continue to do so.

Wendy Walton is head of global private clients and a member of the leadership team at BDO

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