the whale in the room
The workplace, in the main, remains the epitome of mental health stigma.
Being someone who first-hand experienced a chronic eight-year battle with my own mental health, it is understandably a topic I am hugely passionate about. If by the end of this article I can inspire a handful (ideally, all) of you to take some of this thinking into your own place of work I will be a happy man.
Today, you can find me in Bristol (UK) building a fast-paced agency, Whalecake, and juggling being a new parent.
Quick step backward, Whalecake was actually born out of my own anxiety disorder. Becoming too anxious to face the bustling office and meetings, I decided to leave my old job and set up a consultancy from the comfort of my own home, which in turn grew into the business it is today. This isn’t something I would recommend as I now know, since recovering, that this only empowered and fuel the problem even more. But I wouldn’t change anything as I may not be in this position today without taking those steps.
For a long time, I was scared and embarrassed to share these parts of my life, not just with colleagues but clients. I had built up in my head that my colleagues would change their opinions of me for the worse and our clients would stop working with us. As ridiculous as this may sound, it was genuinely terrifying to open up in fear of negatively impacting the business.
This stayed very much under wraps until early 2018, until a mentor persuaded me to open up to a few friends who also own businesses and a few of our clients. Well, the genie was out the bottle and I couldn’t believe the response. It’s funny how obvious it is looking back, but at the time who knew other people were feeling exactly the same and were worried to speak out. Even those who hadn’t experienced anything first hand were incredibly supportive and if anything, this deepened our relationship and positively changed the dynamic.
After opening up, I had a huge surge of empowerment and inspiration to do more. There needed to be a space and movement to encourage more people (especially within the business) to find the strength and acceptance to speak out about their own struggles. This led to me speaking at a number of large events throughout 2018 and later launching the I’m Not Mental podcast. The podcast has been a brilliant gateway to creating deeper relationships and starting a conversation with my team and clients that might not have otherwise happened, as it’s a great way to share and open up but allowing people to listen in their own time.
Within the walls of Whalecake, I am consciously creating a team and culture where it’s normal, acceptable and totally cool to put your hand up and say, “I’m not doing okay, I need some help!”. Changing the interpretation of what it means to be struggling with your mental health, disempowering the stigma and positioning it very much like any other aspect of health and fitness.
For anyone in the same shoes as me, or someone in a position whereby they can introduce positive change to the workplace, I would encourage you to consider introducing some of this thinking…
- Empower your people to talk.
- Share first.
- Doesn’t settle for fine.
- Staff rewards don’t need to be monetary.
- Lead by example.
- Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
- Getting a balance between acknowledging and overly empowering the problem is hard.
- Setting up a support system, not just for your people, but for you.
- Introduce habits and easily accessible things to assist with balance. For instance, bring things within the walls of the workplace if possible – yoga, massage, nutrition advice etc.
I hope these thoughts bring positive change to your workplace, don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you’d like to discuss this in more detail.
You can reach me via Instagram @weshosie