Blogs 15th July 2020 5 minutes read

From secure room to boardroom: a ten-year journey to success and wellbeing

If you’d told me I’d be a Partner in an award-winning consultancy ten years ago, I’d never have believed you. In fact, I’d be a bit surprised I was even still alive. Because back in 2010, I tried to take my own life. It’s not an easy thing to talk about, even now. But the fact that I can, shows us that the world is changing.

I feel that’s particularly important right now, as the Covid-19 pandemic weighs on people’s mental wellbeing.  Nuffield Health reported that around 80% of British people working from home now feel lockdown has had a negative impact on their mental health, while a quarter of those (25%) said they were finding it difficult to cope with the emotional challenges of isolation. In today’smore open, accepting world, some will return to a working environment where they can talk about their struggles. But for others, there’s the risk of deteriorating mental health in a workplace that stigmatises such problems. As mental illness surges in response to coronavirus crisis, it’s more important than ever that employers create an inclusive workplace where employees can speak up and get vital help. 

The fact I could speak openly about my mental wellbeing has been hugely beneficial for me. With my recent promotion to Partner, almost exactly ten years on from my lowest point, I want to take stock of how far I’ve come and how society has progressed when it comes to conversations around mental health. Although there’s still a long way to go, I hope that my story might show those who may be struggling that hope does exist.

In 2010 I was busy, successful and running my own recruitment consultancy. I had plenty of friends and a seemingly outgoing, confident personality. I was always full of jokes and stories, and ready to laugh and chat. But, for several years my mental health had been declining, precipitated by an accumulation of events. Instead of seeking help I became more insular – a very common reaction, as it turns out.

When I was admitted to a secure clinic after reaching a crisis point, (against my will, it has to be said) many people were stunned. After all, I’d been silent about my issues and done an excellent job of hiding my true feelings. After three months of incredible support and insight, I was released. Although out of immediate danger, the recovery had only really just begun.

Helped by counselling and a greater awareness of the fluctuations in my mental health, I started my journey back into mainstream life. My career initially flourished bringing increasingly senior roles, yet the stigma that existed in the workplace and society forced me to keep my ‘guilty secret’ hidden. I felt there was no way I could discuss my mental health at work with a manager or colleagues. In some cases, my fragility made the environment so difficult that I chose to find another role in a futile attempt to escape the mounting fear of failure and collapse. What other choice did I have?

In 2017, I joined Green Park as a Director of their CFO & Board Practice. I threw myself into my work and was rewarded with a successful first year. However, my colleagues had no idea about my issues with mental health, which created a feeling of unease and made me feel like a fraud. I’d experienced this feeling many times before, but  by now I had accepted that it was irreversible.

The turning point came in October 2018 when I heard a number of senior business leaders talking openly about their own mental health struggles at the Mad World Summit. They were telling their stories in a bid to help #endthestigma and listening to them, I could sense that the environment was changing. I too was changing and I felt a responsibility to be honest with myself and others. At that moment, I knew it was time to open up. At this point I have to credit two people out of the many, who gave me the strength to make that decision. One is Rob Stephenson, a friend and mental health campaigner who runs the InsideOut Leaderboard, and Jonny Jacobs, a member of the Mad World Advisory Board. Both have had a profound impact on my wellbeing by encouraging me to open up on my journey, and by giving me perspective and hope from their own lived experiences.

I am also indebted for the kindness and empathy of my Green Park colleagues; too many to name individually. Their support and understanding encouraged me to stand up and share my story publicly. The response has been overwhelming and I’ve been inspired to champion greater mental health awareness in Green Park and beyond. I’m proud to play my own part in ending the stigma.

Creating positive change

Working with my colleagues in our values committee and the Green Park Senior Leadership team, we’ve launched a number of initiatives promoting mental health awareness and wellbeing. Most recently, we partnered with mental health experts, Don’t Mind Group, to develop an app for our employee, candidate and client network: Green Park Well-being +. Along with this resource for “whole of soul” wellbeing, we have introduced complimentary private well-being sessions with a qualified therapist to support our staff through Covid-19 lockdown measures.

I’m proud that Green Park’s work – both internally and through our Diversity, Inclusion, Culture & Ethics Consultancy (DICE) – is helping to shift society towards a more humane and accepting view of mental health. There has been tremendous progress over the last ten years, amplified by public figures such as Stephen Fry and The Princes, William and Harry, helping to drive greater mental health awareness in the wider world.

The recent global pandemic has brought this ever-present challenge of understanding and inclusion into sharper focus. As people struggle to cope with all kinds of issues in the wake of Covid-19, the case for open, caring work environments has never been more relevant. In fact, it is critically important in helping British business to bounce back and succeed in a turbulent global economy. With mental ill health already estimated to cost the UK economy £45billion a year in absence and sick leave, there’s a clear business case for supporting mental health, as well as a moral one.

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, I recently contributed to an article ‘Seven Ways to improve mental health inclusivity in the workplace.’ By enabling a more inclusive culture, employers can encourage employees to open up before small problems turn into big ones. Engaging a Diversity & Inclusion specialist is a good starting point and Green Park’s expertise can get organisations on the right track.

For me, being able to open up has brought a sense of security and freedom that I’ve never had before. I now have honest, open relationships at work, which I hold very dear. I want everyone to have that support and the opportunities that spring from it. My story’s proof that that there are better times ahead.

 

David Sayers is a newly promoted Partner in Green Park’s CFO & Board Practice. An advocate of mental health awareness, he has recently been listed in 2020’s InsideOut Leaderboard.

Find out more about Green Park’s Diversity, Inclusion, Culture & Ethics Consultancy Practice here.

Or to register for Green Park Well- being+, our mental health and wellness app, please email well-being@green-park.co.uk

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