An honest and frank chat about mental health

I’m glad to see so many people share their experiences this week and to discuss that we need more openness about mental health. Having mental health issues was often seen as a sign of weakness and although that is changing, it’s still hard as a company owner - leading a team and interacting with clients - to be 100% honest about my own struggles. It’s difficult to gauge how honest to be and how much should be kept private, but as it’s mental health awareness week I thought I’d share my own story in the hope that it inspires others to be open or simply helps to break down a few taboos around mental health.

I’m generally a happy and ‘can do’ person who always sees the positives in every situation, but it’s been a bumpy journey to get to this place. I went to an all-boys school, and my experience there wasn’t particularly good; suffice to say that I now won’t stand for bullying in any shape or form. It was a very traditional school and I wasn’t particularly academic, so my way of kicking back against authority was to skive off in the theatre playing with lights and to go off and get a girlfriend. Now I’ll openly admit I was a naive so and so at the age of 15. Boys will be boys (and girls will be girls) and I became a father at the ripe old age of 16. I left school after my GCSEs and went straight into the workforce. Tragedy hit and my son James died of sudden infant death syndrome (cot death) when he was just five months old. To say it hit me like a truck is an understatement and I spiralled downwards into (what I now recognise was) depression, a series of dead-end jobs and a lot of crying.

It’s a cliché to say that time is a great healer and whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but both statements are forged from truth. Two decades later I can be more objective about the experience as it now feels like it happened to someone else. It has made me resilient and has instilled in me the ability to look at a negative situation and truly believe that it’s really not that bad. It doesn’t matter how bad your day is, trust me, it could be worse – even if it maybe doesn’t feel like that at the time. I think that losing my son has made me more relatable, more intuitive and I have more empathy towards others. If one of my team or industry colleagues is having a bad day, I hope that I can empathise and understand what they are going through. I like to help and I hope that I am a force for good in whatever it is I’m doing, with the associations I’m involved with and in the lives of the people that I’m fortunate to know. I have a fantastic opportunity in being a company founder and a director of the ALD. Wherever possible I try to use this to influence opinions to do what I believe is best for our industry and the welfare and wellbeing of those in it.

Roll on twenty-one years; I’m now in a happy place and my son Harry is five months old. To be truthful, the fact that he is five months old is a pretty major milestone for me and it has led to some sleepless nights. He’s also a constant reminder that there is something to smile about.

With the lockdowns slowly being lifted many are predicting a mental health crisis, but I hope that we can focus on the positives rather than the negatives. Focusing on the negatives, in my experience can make matters a whole lot worse and we could be in danger of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s really important at this time to look forwards, find the positives, no matter how small they might be.

I’ll finish on another cliche, but an honest one. Our door here at Collaborative Creations is always open. If you need a chat, a drink or a proper hug, just pop your head in the door and make yourself at home.

We’re building a fun and vibrant community here and it’s always a safe place to speak. So come and be a part of it.