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Mental health and me

Date: 18 May 2020

In 2019 I was privileged to go on tour with Citywire as part of their Wealth Manager retreat events. I was invited to sit on a number of panel debates talking about mental health (led by a brilliant young chap named Ollie Smith) in the context of how to find a better way of working in the financial services sector.  

At one of these events, Paul Feeney delivered a short keynote which was different to any talk I've heard in my close to 20 years in the sector. In one swoop he destroyed conventional expectations of highly successful, high-performing executive in the city by sharing his own backstory and vulnerabilities. The resulting atmosphere, an electric silence with each and every member of the audience paying their full, respectful attention will stay with me for a long time.  

Paul then went on to tell the audience about Quilter’s Thrive initiative, outlining the support offered to its staff members, but what really stayed with me most about meeting Paul was the leadership qualities he demonstrated by telling his own story.  

When I think about mental health issues based on my own experience (fortunately only sporadic and relatively mild) I keep coming back to a real sense of loss. It's clearly a deeply personal issue and will vary significantly from person to person but I often dwell on the missed opportunities, the friendships that could have been stronger, the work I could have been doing, the grades I didn't get at university. I was once at a talk from another sector great, Dave Ferguson, who quoted a cartoonist by the name of Hugh McLeod "are you haunted by your own potential"? I think about that from time to time. Being haunted by a quote about being haunted in some kind of meta-haunting. Thanks Dave.  

In the context of the work environment, the combination of poor understanding of mental health issues, inadequate treatment, the sheer force of weight of taboo around the subject all contributes to that sense of loss. You'll notice that in the last paragraphs I find myself using language to talk-down the seriousness of my own experiences. Even for someone on the public speaking circuit talking about this, the taboo is very much real.  

A quick Google search will show you the potential scale of that impact. For example, data from the Labour Force Survey, analysed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – the UK’s health and safety watchdog – showed that incidences of work-related stress, depression and anxiety have increased steadily since 2014-15, resulting in a loss of almost 13 million working days in the UK. Sobering numbers.  

That's why initiatives like Thrive are so vital. Vital to help individuals get back on their feet. Vital to help them seek help in a safe and secure environment (made all the more safe by Mr Feeney leading by example) And potentially vital in helping individuals seeking the correct course of professional help if necessary.   

Steve Nelson

Steve Nelson

Consulting director at the lang cat

Steve Nelson is consulting director at the lang cat, having spent 7 years helping build Leith’s leading investments, platforms, and pensions consultancy. Steve specialises in research, conducting many of the lang cat’s research activities, including its flagship adviser omnibus study, State of the Adviser Nation. In the spirit of this article, Steve also lost a couple of big chunks of his life to depression and anxiety and spends much of his time now trying to turn this into a positive, doing his small bit to improve understanding in financial services and raising money for the Samaritans.