Foreword by Matthew Tynan, Office Support Recruitment Consultant at Hillman Saunders.
As part of our ongoing series of Mental Health in Insurance articles – which will run throughout Q4 of 2018 – I’m delighted to include below a very touching article by Paul Crothall of BMS Group.
We’ve known Paul for several months now due to his bravery on Linkedin, regularly liking and commenting on other updates covering mental health. He recommended a book to us (Coming out of the Rabbit Hole) and we recently asked him if he’d like to write a guest blog for our series, and he kindly agreed.
Just as Paul is talking openly and honestly about mental health, so too should we. Mental Health illness has affected my colleague Thomas Cubitt’s father in law, and claimed the life of my uncle. My natural interest in the subject was heightened recently by Gian Power’s talk at the Dive In Festival, especially the Ripple Effect.
For me, mental health is such a unique area of health, wellbeing and even diversity because unlike things like physical disability, you can’t always see it. I think if we can improve it it’s a double win: the obvious win for those that suffer but for the industry, if we can reduce absenteeism / improve performance and productivity, it would save millions that we currently lose.
So much so that I’m now proud to say I’m about to start my mental health first aid course – as will also be undertaken soon by our counterparts at Price Forbes – so that I might be able to spot, support and speak about the signs of a mental issue with my colleagues, candidates, clients, consultants and competitors. I really can’t wait and I’ll be writing about my training at the time naturally.
As usual, to discuss absolutely anything whatsoever, please email me on email@example.com.
Right, that’s more than enough from me, now onto Paul and his incredibly poignant article.
Mental Health & Me: My Story, by Paul Crothall
My name is Paul and I’ve worked at BMS for almost 15 years (the last seven years in the Central Ops team). BMS have been fantastic throughout my employment with them and I’m grateful to share my story, so that we can help raise awareness in the Insurance market and wider Financial Services sector and can attempt to improve mental health well being which impacts a large number of employees and professionals in the community.
I guess I’m writing this article because I believe we’re still at the iceberg stage in terms of mental health in the UK, where the number of people talking openly about their struggles is only a tiny proportion, with the vast majority submerged below the surface in the darkness. Even if this article only helps or educates just one person after reading it, then it’s been worth it.
Strictly speaking, my mental health story does not cover a mental illness (as defined in the Mental Health Act), but the symptoms are similar.
I want to make that clear as I know many people with mental health problems who face daily battles with their illness and the stigma/biases often associated with it. For many (if not all) of them, it is a battle they will have to face for most/all of their lives.
My mental health problem is burnout (or chronic stress) which, although difficult to go through, can be overcome – but some never fully recover.
Burnout creeps up on you. There are signs you can look out for, but most people ignore them and try to “push through and carry on”. I tried that, but it caught up with me eventually. In hindsight, I should have sought help earlier but I am not a quitter so I thought I could beat it through perseverance. How wrong I was!
It culminated with me walking along London Bridge one day and , suicide crossed my mind for the first time. I didn’t attempt to climb the wall, but I had to move myself away from the edge so that I couldn’t see down or try to scale and jump. At the time, it just seemed like the best way to make it all stop.
But it didn’t stop. Exactly the same thing happened at the railway station platform, where I had to walk as far from the edge of the platform as possible until the train arrived. These weren’t one offs. They were repeated suicidal thoughts that served the biggest indicators of my declining mental health, and ones that I tried to manage on my own for several months.
How did it get like this? Prior to 2004 I was always physically active and even served in the Territorial Army for seven years. My friends wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told them later in life I would have mental health problems – I was always playing sport and having a laugh and a joke.
The physical exercise might be a factor because this reduced from daily exercise to almost zero after the birth of our first child, as every new parent will know! It stopped initially because I missed my daughter’s first steps and words whilst away with the TA. That was in July 2000 and I did continue running for the next few years – until a broken ankle put a stop to that!
On top of that, my days were hectic – up early, commuting from Kent, working a full, intense day, commuting back, caring for the children, caring for my wife (who has ME), then working again until 1 or 2 am due to the pressure I put on myself (not from BMS I hasten to add). I have always worked hard, but had also played hard. Giving up exercise, I filled the void with more work!
Another contributory factor in my declining mental health was that I had serious financial concerns personally. As you might expect, the quality of my work was not as high as my best standard as I was getting between 3 and 4 hours sleep a night for a number of years. I had also gone from being Mr Reliable to someone who could not keep to his promises. I was trying to please everyone, but felt I was of no use to anyone.
I felt overwhelmed at work and at home. Imagine building a pyramid out of playing cards. Each card was something I needed to deal with and if anything knocked one of those cards, everything would come crashing down. At least, that’s how it felt to me.
At first, my suicidal thoughts were mine alone. I didn’t want to tell anyone bar my GP for reasons of pride, fear of judgement or a black mark against my name. Trying to avoid this unconscious bias made me not feel part of the group, which in turn meant I didn’t socialise with my colleagues. I had no time to see my friends and most of my family are in Lincolnshire so I couldn’t see them as I lived in Kent. I became reclusive which only served to hide my illness better, and no one seems to speak much nowadays due to the little personal interaction caused by the rise of social media.
I honestly thought I had no one to speak to about it.
Until that is that I started noticing stories on Linkedin talking about mental health. I began sharing, commenting and actually feeling more positive about my situation. I wasn’t as alone as I thought.
People like Alexandra Galviz (Authentic Alex), Stacey Clarke, Hamnett Quinn, and James Milligan to name just a few.
Alexandra was one of four people who started Linkedin Local, getting people away from their screens to meet face to face in an informal setting, in places as far afield as London, USA and Australia (where the issue of mental health in Financial Services is very well covered). This movement has now gone truly global.
Encouraged by posts I had seen on LinkedIn from these brave individuals speaking about their mental health problems; recognising the need for some social interaction for myself; and having a desire to help any other people struggling with mental health problems, I reached out to Alex to see if we could use the LinkedIn Local movement to raise awareness of mental health problems and help those who need it or have an interest in helping others.
Alex and I met first. We were then joined by Hussain Katariwala and Dr Balu to start #LinkedInLocalMentalHealth. At our first event, I spoke about my struggle with burnout; Hussain explained his experience of depression; and Louisa Chastney talked about anxiety – all expertly chaired by Dr Balu. Plans are being made for the next event – please look out for any posts on LinkedIn and we would be glad to see you there.
Prior to this, BMS started some wonderful work internally about Mental Health. This gave me the courage to tell BMS in January 2018 about my own struggles, and they have been absolutely fantastic. I took some time off to manage my illness earlier this year and was eased back into work by BMS allowing me to work from home one day a week until I felt ready to return fully.
I had a short relapse around May due to trying to do too much again (I had swapped work for social media, so have since stepped back on that), but life is better now. My young daughter whose first steps I missed is now 19 years and at Cambridge University. My other (younger) daughter, my wife and I go to martial arts training, which brings us closer together. We are also community volunteers helping to clean the streets in under-developed parts of our lovely town. I still have many things to deal with, but they don’t phase me as much. I am definitely a work in progress still, but the progress to date has been incredible.
In the second article I write I will discuss what I think Insurance organisations can do to help support their employees. Until then, I thank you for your time and of course if you’d like to speak about any of this please contact Matthew Tynan as your first port of call on firstname.lastname@example.org.