On World Mental Health Day, one of Ascent’s Healthy Mind Advocates, Tahir Bashir, talks about how we support our employees with their mental health.

“Working in debt recovery means that my front line colleagues often have to have difficult conversations with customers regarding their own mental health, vulnerabilities and wellbeing issues, and this can sometimes lead to stress, particularly after the call has ended and there is time to reflect,” explains Tahir, who is Head of Unsecured Servicing at Ascent. “We always put customers first and do the right thing for them, but we also have an equal responsibility to our colleagues. I’ve been at Ascent for almost nine years, and we genuinely care about our people.”

Tahir is currently one of two Healthy Mind Advocates at Ascent’s Manchester office, having completed the Mental Health First Aid course. “The MHFA course was a really meaningful two days that taught me how to identify, understand and help someone who may be experiencing a mental health issue,” says Tahir. “It taught me to listen non-judgementally, and to reassure and respond, even in a crisis. The skills that are taught are invaluable with the work we do, especially for our telephone teams who sometimes have to deal with those very challenging situations, where they often have to make sound decisions in line with policies and procedures, but ensure they’re always doing what is best for the customer.”

“The team know that if they’ve had a tough call with a customer, they can come to me or Adele, our other MHFA, and talk about it. Since I completed the MHFA training, along with making myself available and looking for signs that maybe support is needed, I’ve also been directly called upon a few times. I remember walking down the office and hearing someone sounding a bit distressed after a call, so I stopped to talk to them. That person opened up a bit, and we talked through the call and how it had made them feel, I reassured them and gave the opportunity for them to  take a breather away from their desk for a while until they felt ready to start work again. It’s about being a sounding board and a signposter – we’re not medical specialists, but we can provide immediate support and if necessary connect people to relevant professional help. Most times a colleague just needs a bit of time out after a difficult call, and that’s fine.”

 Of course, it’s not just work-related stress that MHFAs can help with – it can be any mental health issue. “I was once approached by a manager who was concerned about the mental health of a member of their team, and didn’t know how to deal with it,” said Tahir. “Because of the training, I knew what steps to take to get the person the help they needed.”

“We’ll be training more colleagues in Ascent as Mental Health First Aiders in November, as part of our ongoing commitment to the wellbeing of our team. As well as this, we also offer all our people access to the Aviva Digital GP app, and our employee assistance scheme, which includes a counselling service.  I personally was going through a very hard time a few years ago and used the counselling helpline – it was absolutely fantastic and exactly what I needed. I now remind everyone in the team about how good it is whenever they are going through a difficult time, because if someone personally recommends something, you are more likely to give it a go, aren’t you?”