Mental Health Awareness Week: A Message From the Top

Executive Chairman of Advanced Dynamics, Malcolm Little, talks through his own experiences with mental health and his belief that creating a safe space for colleagues to open up in a work environment built on the foundations of trust and care are key to maintaining good mental health.

I remember it clear as day.

I was sitting around a table of fellow entrepreneurs and business owners. We were at an event together, split into a group of seven. There were similar personalities from leaders across a wide range of different industries – first-class people; many of which I’d class as friends now.

This particular meeting was to discuss how these various companies had progressed over the past year. There were a few exercises to complete and for one of them, we were sitting in our group to discuss strategic planning and what we were going to do over the next six months.

I had my list in front of me, but it wasn’t a strategy. It was my list of what I do day-to-day. I was blank. I’d hit a wall. What I had written was total rubbish. At that time, I was under significant stress at work, much more than normal. The only way I could release that pent-up frustration was to put my head in my hands and cry.

I’ve been the leader of this business for more than 20 years and had never experienced that before. I wouldn’t want anyone to go through that and I hope it’s something that I never go through again.

So, what had happened at that meeting?

You reading this probably know the answer. I didn’t fully at the time. Growing up, I’d gone through less severe episodes and my mentality had been to roll my sleeves up and get on with it. Malcolm will do it. Malcolm will get it done. Malcolm will get by. You get the picture.

This time was different, though.

I went to the doctor’s to get checked out. We spoke about what I was going through, what I was thinking, and what I was feeling. All the while, though, the doctor was smiling at me and I didn’t understand why.

I bit the bullet. I asked him. He told me: “you know what’s wrong, but I want you to say it out loud.”

Anxiety and depression.

It rolled off the tongue without hesitation. They weren’t just words either. That was approximately 18 months ago, after the feeling had taken a grip of me following a decision that was made that significantly affected the business, mostly in the short-term. As the guy leading the business, I felt that pressure. I felt the pressure of the employees and the mortgages they needed to pay and the mouths they were feeding.

In our lives, what is the biggest thing that impacts our mental health? In my opinion, it’s work. That’s something we’re getting better at talking about, but there’s far more to be done, especially within the manufacturing industry.

I am an open book. I believe in transparency and honesty and I spoke to many people about what I went through. What I appreciated, more than anything, was that I wasn’t treated like a victim. Going back to that meeting, and afterwards, it’s amazing how many people actually spoke up and said that they were going through, or had gone through something similar in the past.

Left alone to fester, though, it can create a self-perpetuating circle of negativity around an individual, a circle that’s incredibly tough to break out of the longer it’s left.

I have had similar instances here at Advanced Dynamics, with colleagues who had similar experiences and have told me what they were going through. Just as I had felt at that meeting, on each occasion they felt better by simply being allowed to open up and talk.  Simply letting the dam burst and releasing the pressure.

And that’s what it, ultimately, is all about. It’s about us, as business owners, creating a safe space for colleagues to open up. It’s about creating a culture of honesty. It’s about creating a work environment built on the foundations of trust and care.

Mental health is something we take incredibly seriously. Those colleagues I referred to a short while ago are given everything they need to recover and continue to do so when they return to us. We’re a family here and we will support each other, no matter what they’re going through.

Having that ability and space to be able to open up is so vital in today’s society and there’s an onus on us to get it right.

Take it from me. Even as someone who has been at the forefront of this business for more than two decades, it helped me when I needed it most.

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