Face for Radio: breaking the silence on mental ill health in business

Doing my bit for change on World Mental Health Day 2016

Sunrise in Cascais on World Mental Health Day 2016

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Just another ordinary Monday?

On the face of it, today is a Monday like any other. Across the country and the world, people are waking up and bracing themselves for the week ahead. It’s time to go to work.

For some of us this brings us enjoyment, for some of us it’s a hard necessity, for others it’s just life, it’s ’what we do’. Some of us are job ‘lifers’, some of us have a few different gigs, while some of us are out of work.

Whether we are a human cog in a big company machine, an individual seeking to ply our trade or craft, a worker in a shop, an employee in a small company or an entrepreneur chasing a big dream, we have one thing in common: our weeks, months and years are dominated with challenge of earning a living. We give ourselves fully to this rite of life’s passage.

Last week on Radio Five Live, the London-based organisation Business in the Community reported that three in four people in the workforce have experienced symptoms of poor mental health at some point in their lives and that 29% of ordinary people like you and me have been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

More alarmingly, in 62% of those cases, the workplace itself was a contributing factor. I was genuinely shocked to hear this, in part because I have, it would seem, had a remarkably good run in the jobs I have had over my 18 years in the workforce.

It’s time to see less of this and more discussion about mental ill health in business.

Today is the day to say open up to #HelloYellow

What makes today different from any other Monday is that it is World Mental Health Day, a day to recognise and open up about this vitally important subject affecting the fabric of our society. It’s a day where we can express ourselves by wearing yellow clothing and make a statement for ourselves, our friends, our colleagues and our family members that have been affected by mental ill health.

#HelloYellow is the mantra for today — so embrace it on Twitter and share your thoughts widely. There is no downside to being open to sharing what you are feeling today, or any other day.

You might think that this kind of sharing so publicly might be frowned upon or seen as a sign of weakness, and you will not been alone on that point. Shedloads of people will feel the same way.

But that does not make it right, because the opposite is true. It is a show of strength and great character to be open about one’s vulnerability as we have seen by the world’s great leaders down the years.

It’s time for me to do my bit

I am spending today in Cascais near Lisbon, seeking out a house near the sea for friends and colleagues to come to during the winter. Having grown up in Wellington, a city with probably the worst winter climate on the planet, my mood doesn’t get affected by the English winter but I’ve been here long enough to know that many people really struggle with it.

My idea is to rent a house for the winter months with an open-door policy for anyone that wants to come to hang out for a few days, a week, a month or even the whole winter. I think of it as ‘Happy House’.

I have come to realise that “making stuff happen” is my skill more so than “getting shit done” as the common mantra goes. So, that’s the goal here, to create the opportunity for my friends to have a better winter experience where all they have to do is turn up and I’ll take care of the rest.

So, hopefully today is successful and Happy House becomes a reality.

And to contribute to something really significant

The bigger step is to share with you a new project that I have been pondering for a year or so now as I have wondered whether I should to get back into radio.

I thought I had it nailed back in April when when I pitched Ben Keene with the idea of starting “Adventure Radio” but as much fun as that might have been, I soon dropped the thought.

Today though I am pleased to say that I’m giving birth to a new radio show called Face For Radio, a podcast that will ferociously attack the subject of mental ill health in business. A friend reminds me to ‘watch for the little signs’ and last week a big sign happened and Face for Radio is now a new reality for me and hopefully many of you too.

I used to be a cricket show host. I suspect that this is going to be far harder.

So, how did Face For Radio come about?

Looking back, there are a few different factors that have influenced this decision:

  1. Many years of hearing stories of friends and colleagues feeling that their needs were being neglected in the workplace

2. A lot of listening and observing over the last two years as a coach/mentor of friends really suffering from the pressures of running their own businesses

3. My own struggle to reorientate myself when my working identity was destroyed overnight when I resigned from Investec in 2014

4. Seeing some leaders amongst my peers that I have got to know and respect start to share publicly their experiences of feeling broken, burnt out and depressed

5. Recognising that it was time to be more open about the fact that mental ill health is something that has been in my family and my closest friends lives for many years

6. Two talks at work during a 24-hour period in September: one by Pete Trainor on how large companies like Apple have the data to know that someone is going to commit suicide by choose to do nothing about it, and one by Emily Dean of YoungMinds on the importance of talking about how 75% of enduring long-term mental ill health begins before the age of 18.

Some of us have talked about creating support groups for our peers starting their own businesses, and maybe that will come in time. First though, the pressing need to to get talking and the “trigger event” (an apt word given its link to suicide) for me to start now was a comment I heard last week at a Beyond Me event, run by my friend Ambica.

The two speakers were founders of businesses in the care industry and by chance they both said how they would one day write the book on how mental ill health affected business founders. So, in the Q&A I asked them “How would business benefit from the subject of mental ill health being discussed openly?”.

Adam Pike, the founder of Super Carers and Beyond Me, responded by saying that he believes that when Investors put say £1m into a startup there should be an extra £50,000 to go towards the team’s health and wellbeing with no questions asked. What an inspired and astonishing response!

And so I told Adam about how I was thinking about getting back into radio, that I had bought the face4radio.co domain, that I wanted to talk about mental ill health and that all I needed (as always with me) was the partner to get started. Adam’s response:

“Just start and I’ll be your first guest. Just let me know when and where”.

So, there you have it. Face For Radio is now a reality and it will be focused on a issue that affects a fuck tonne of us every in our working lives. I think that’s something worth talking about, I hope you do too .

Disclosure:

In addition to the affects of mental ill health in my family and close friends, I am a survivor of suicide. My wife Rima took her life in April 2012 and in the months that followed, it became evident that she had suffered from mental ill health for a very long time but had not shared this with anyone at all. I carry a huge amount of guilt for her death but the bigger guilt will be if I don’t use that knowledge and everything I have learned since in a positive way. It’s time to get started and finally start making a real contribution to humanity.