Ten years ago, if someone had told KPMG Ottawa office manager Deirdre Hendrick that she would one day speak at the Royal Ottawa Foundation’s Leaders for Mental Health Breakfast, her reaction would have been nothing short of incredulous.
“I’d say, ‘What? Are you kidding me?’,” said Hendrick during an interview to talk about her participation in the major fundraiser set for Wednesday, Oct. 6th. “And yet here I am. This is a big step for me, but I want to pay it forward.”
The long-time employee of KPMG is sharing her story of how a loved one in her family sought treatment for substance use disorder at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, and how his journey to sobriety put her on her own path to reducing stigma, providing support, raising awareness and educating others about recovering from addictions.
The Leaders for Mental Health Breakfast is once again returning to a virtual format, to be hosted live from a Minto show home in Barrhaven by sports journalist Ian Mendes, senior writer with The Athletic. The Royal’s president and CEO, Joanne Bezzubetz, and the new president of its foundation, Chris Ide, will be part of the show.
This year’s breakfast will highlight The Royal's substance use disorder services. The pandemic has been linked to the deterioration of mental health and a spike in substance use among many Canadians, according to a series of surveys commissioned by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction and the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
The presenting sponsor of the breakfast is the Malcomson family. They own the Canadian Tire in Kanata and were recognized in 2018 with an award for their philanthropy by Ottawa’s professional fundraisers.
Both Hendrick and KPMG Ottawa managing partner Andrew Newman are table captains for the event. As well, the Big Four accounting firm has made a financial contribution through its foundation.
“KPMG has supported me so much in my volunteer work,” said Hendrick, who’s also active with the Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa.
Hendrick is hoping the Leaders for Mental Health Breakfast encourages companies to be more supportive of employees facing alcohol and/or drug substance use disorders.
“People don’t talk about it, especially in the corporate world,” said Hendrick, citing fear of job loss or of being passed over for a promotion as factors.
"It’s about putting a person before the diagnosis, describing what a person has rather than asserting what a person is"
One shouldn’t feel shame walking into The Royal to get help, she continued.
“That has to stop; it really does,” said Hendrick, who would like to see more person-first language training that avoids usage of certain words, such as ‘addicts’ or ‘alcoholics’, that oppress or dehumanize people. “It’s about putting a person before the diagnosis, describing what a person has rather than asserting what a person is.”
Hendrick said KPMG has always been there for her, from when she was a young mom caring for a child with pneumonia to more recently, when she was dealing with family crises that required treatment of loved ones at The Royal. “For KPMG to have my back like that speaks volumes,” said Hendrick, while recalling how former managing partner Grant McDonald would drop in to see her.
“You know how busy he is, and for him to take the time to walk into my office and ask me how my family is doing. I did not want to go to work and talk about (my problems) but just having that one person know, and he was so supportive. I mean, my gosh, it was huge."
In late 2019, Hendrick was asked by Gord Garner, vice-president of strategic partnerships, to join the board of the Community Addictions Peer Support Association (CAPSA). She took part in its Recovery Day Ottawa last week, with support from KPMG as a community partner.
She also participated in The Royal’s Run for Women this summer, as part of the team led by KPMG partner Leigh Harris, a former board chair of the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.
Hendrick said mental health remains an important area of focus for KPMG. It provides a benefit of $2,000 for all its employees to use for a wide range of mental health services. As well, it gave everyone an extra six days off this summer, to make up for the long days they were putting in at their home offices.
In 2017, KPMG created the role of chief health officer — a first in Canada — and hired award-winning mental health advocate Denis Trottier, upon his retirement as a partner at KPMG Ottawa, to share his story of battling depression.
KPMG also hosts mental health talks for its nearly 8,000 employees across Canada. During one virtual coffee chat held early in the pandemic, a partner from one of the firm's 40 offices spoke candidly about his struggles.
“This person just blew me away with how open he was about his substance use disorder," said Hendrick. "He said, ‘If it wasn’t for the people at KPMG supporting me, I don’t know where I would be today.’
“I’m sure I was in tears that morning listening to him speak. He was incredible, just speaking from the heart.
“That’s how far we’ve come.”
For more information on how to support the event, check out the Leaders for Mental Health Breakfast website.