Would you drive a car without servicing the engine?

A couple of weeks ago, I read some frightening statistics:

67% of employees with mental health issues have never told their employer because:

    • 13% felt too embarrassed to tell them
    • 24% thought that their employer could not help
    • 19% felt it may jeopardize their career.

Growing up in the UK in the 1980s, no one understood or talked about mental health. If anyone suggested that they needed to speak to a psychologist, they were seen as crazy or weak and were often bullied.

Looking back now, I had mental health issues.

    • Why did I lock the door to go to school and go back two, three or four times to check I had locked it?
    • Why did I face tins forward in the cupboard so that they were all in neat lines?

I had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Was that a surprise to me? Absolutely not! My dad had OCD. Every time someone was coming to the house he hoovered. When they left, he hoovered. On Christmas Day we had an hour to play with our toys before they had to be away in cupboards upstairs…so he could hoover.

As a child I was lucky. We did not have the issues that kids face today. We had no phones, so my brain didn’t have to deal with the huge amount of information that kids have to navigate today. I rarely sat down with my parents to hear what was happening in the world. I didn’t read the papers and I spent my life playing outside. I was protected.

But I was anxious. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be popular…too much at times. I remember that desire, that pressure to be in the right groups.

At school, I was considered to be a `high performer.’ I went from Head Boy at Junior School to Head Boy at Senior School, to Captain of the School Football Team, to University to managing large teams by the age of 21. I would get promotion after promotion, stand on stage and engage hundreds of people and get glowing feedback. So why did I feel like an imposter? Why did I feel out of my depth?

That inner anxiety can be all consuming at times. I just got on with life and assumed it was part of me…seemly doing well but always thinking something was wrong.

As a parent, my anxiety reached a whole new level! When your children are struggling with mental health issues it is so hard to know what to do. The latest statistics from the Resilience Project tell us that:

    • 1 in 7 primary school kids experience mental ill-health (and this number is growing)
    • 1 in 5 adults will experience mental health problems this year
    • 1 in 4 adolescents will experience mental ill-health.

When my daughter was struggling, my wife and I were in crisis mode and didn’t know what to do. At the same time I was having a hard time at work and I felt that I barely had the energy to fix myself, never mind my daughter. One day, I spoke to a colleague about my daughter and that conversation changed my life.

That colleague said that she had been seeing a psychologist nearly all of her life. She said that you would not drive a car without servicing the engine, and that having a conversation with a psychologist was the same as going to the mechanic for a tune up. She normalised what I was brought up in the UK to believe was a weakness.

From that day forward I started to treat psychologists the same as doctors and dentists. My daughter is now in year 12 and her resilience is remarkable because she understands herself and has solutions in place to overcome the difficult times.

I initially found it hard to talk to my mates about these issues so I built a close bond with my psychologist Stephen, who I visited every six months as a coach. He pumped up my tyres, we chatted about life and I always walked away feeling upbeat and energised. Today, I am much more comfortable being vulnerable and sharing my experiences with others.

So my message to you is this:

    • Mental health challenges are normal – we all face them at different times.
    • It is not a sign of weakness. More often, it’s a sign of being strong for so long.
    • Finally and most importantly, you are not alone. Talk to someone.

Would you drive a car without servicing the engine?

Continuing a conversation about mental health is very important to me. If you feel comfortable, please feel free to share your stories with me here or send me a private message on LinkedIn.

Together we can shake the stigma and support our colleagues who may need a helping hand.