Planning for the New World: A Q&A with Mark Atkinson
News 6th May 2020 4 minutes read
The statistics are eye-opening. According to the charity Mind, approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year1. That means that in an office of 80 people, 20 could be experiencing mental health issues. But how many feel able to speak up and ask for support without fear or stigma? At Green Park, we’re determined to create a workplace where colleagues can be open about mental health and get the support they need to thrive. Leading Green Park’s internal mental health awareness drive is David Sayers, Head of Green Park’s CFO Practice.
David Sayers joined Green Park in 2017 to help clients source and appoint senior financial executives including Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) and in 2018, led his practice to a record-breaking year. A highly regarded expert in his field, David has over 20 years’ experience in finance recruitment and executive search. David is also passionate about raising mental health awareness and champions initiatives for greater wellness at work, both inside and outside of Green Park.
Only in the last year has David spoken so candidly about his own struggles with mental health, admitting “it’s not always easy to speak about, but it’s far easier than pretending it doesn’t exist!”
His catalyst was the 2018 Mad World Summit – a global conference seeking to break the stigma surrounding poor mental health and to drive workplace mental health and wellness strategies.
“I watched as the speeches drew to a close and my overwhelming emotion was embarrassment. For years now, I had kept my own battle with mental health a secret and suppressing the truth had undoubtedly escalated my problems, from both a personal and professional perspective. I had never felt talking about it was an option, yet, standing there and witnessing other business leaders tell their stories, I felt a responsibility to be honest with myself and others.”
For those close to him, ten years ago, David would have seemed the last person to be suffering from depression or anxiety. A 6’4” former rugby player, David was confident, outgoing and full of jokes and stories. At work, he was highly successful, with an impressive career, and outside of work he had a busy social life with a full social circle. As many people remarked, not the obvious candidate for someone in difficulties. But, as David explained, depression can affect anyone. Despite his exterior persona, throughout the late noughties, David’s mental health was rapidly deteriorating and, reaching crisis point in 2010, he was deemed a suicide risk and admitted to a clinic for treatment.
It was the start of a long road back to better mental health, but with counselling and support, he gradually recovered. Armed with the tools to recognise and manage the fluctuation of his mental health, he has continued to thrive both professionally and socially.
This is the story that David told to his Green Park colleagues, following his attendance at the Mad World Summit. Behind David’s efforts was the realisation that he needed to lead by example: “If I don’t come forward and speak about mental health, other people in my position won’t either.”
The talk sparked a huge response, both in Green Park but also in the wider business and personal community. It also set into motion the next step at Green Park: a raft of initiatives to support mental well-being. These will include a number of initiatives, support structures and measures to help employees keep track of key factors affecting mental health such as sleep, exercise and diet. Access to a dedicated app is another possibility as the team explore a number of other options. However, as David emphasises, there is no silver bullet.
“The effects and challenges surrounding a decline in mental health are multi-linear, so it’s logical that approaches to safeguard people and prevent an ongoing slide, should equally be wide-ranging, relevant and interchangeable. For me, the lead up to my crisis point was the cumulative effect of many events, and the inability to quantify what was wrong and the changes I needed to make. You don’t just wake up in crisis – the challenge is being able to read the early signs, recognise that you need help, not be afraid to ask for it and have the right support to help you find it.”
Green Park is not the only business to champion a more open attitude to mental health issues. The pioneering Lord Mayor’s ‘This is Me’ campaign is encouraging organisations to share their employees’ lived experiences about mental health through blogs, video or other mediums. David wears his green #ThisIsMe ribbon with pride and has joined a growing list of people – from celebrities, members of the royal family and leading industry figures – who have spoken frankly about their problems and given hope to others. David’s dedication has drawn growing admiration, resulting in his nomination for the 2020 InsideOut LeaderBoard, a celebration of leaders who have chosen to be open, thus playing their part in #SmashingtheStigma surrounding mental health.
We are pleased to be joining The Green Ribbon Campaign during Mental Health Awareness Week, which takes place from 13-19 May 2019. To join the Lord Mayor's Appeal with us and help to #endthestigma of mental health visit:
 McManus, S., Meltzer, H., Brugha, T. S., Bebbington, P. E., & Jenkins, R. (2009). Adult psychiatric morbidity in England, 2007: results of a household survey. The NHS Information Centre for health and social care.