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My life changed when I started having an open conversation about mental health. All organisations should follow suit.

When Chris at Generation CFO approached me to write this article, I wanted to take the opportunity to share some insights that I deliver as part of my keynote seminar ‘Talking Anxiety’.

I had OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) as a child, which morphed into GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) as I got older.

As a result, I was driven by high anxiety and nervous energy – it was a survival mechanism for me – through education and into my professional career.

The bi-product of these conditions was low self-esteem, a lack of self-confidence and a strong desire to ‘people please’ – seeking my accountability, value and worth in the opinions and reactions of others.

To the outside world, however, I was ‘successful’; Head Prefect in both schools, I had great grades, I was in every friendship group. This mechanism worked so well for me in school. I took the same approach to my professional career.

It can take the same energy to destroy us as it does to act as a catalyst to go forward, to be ‘successful’.

Now, it’s easy for me to spot the reasons why people get to the point of breakdown, burnout, meltdown – whatever label you want to attribute to that moment when you declare to the world “I’m done!”. You can only run for so long before you stop.

Firstly, masking: we try to be what people want to see in us and what situations demand of us – we sure don’t show them our real selves!

Secondly, ‘recovery’ time – we fill up our diaries with work, then fill in any gaps with our family commitments – but where do we feature in our own lives?

Where do you feature in your own life?

There should be a piece of your day diarised to decompress, recharge and recover, to enable you to go again strong tomorrow.

In the UK, we have a real problem with self-care. We often label it as selfish, which is why we feel guilty when we prioritise ourselves above anything.

However, you need to put your oxygen mask on first to be able to help other people.

It was only through my experience that things shifted for me. I decided to stand up and speak about my experiences of mental illness and mental health at a networking event.

The reason I began to share my challenges was not as a career change, but because I didn’t see any other men, especially in the UK, talking about mental health eight years ago.

After I finished my first talk, everyone gave me their support. Everyone gave me a hug (I love hugs!). What truly changed my world forever was when they started sharing their stories of abuse, grief and adversity back to me – people I had known for years, but never really ‘knew’.


If you are interested in reading further about mental health in business, you can access more here.


Essentially, people just want to be heard and understood.

It seems that vulnerability can be our superpower – yet for most, it remains the one thing we fear.

I believe that the most vital engagement tool we have in promoting positive Mental Health and raising awareness is our lived experience.

For me, ‘lived experience’ is the vehicle that takes organisations and individuals from the problem of mental health to the solution.

I work with the world’s leading brands to increase engagement in the mental health and wellbeing initiatives they have in place already.

Unless you get engagement, absolutely nothing changes.

Engagement, combined with active signposting and getting good at knowing how to signpost people to solutions, means we can help people. We want to inspire people without the burden of trying to fix them.

Unless you are a medical professional, people aren’t coming to you to be fixed. They are coming to you to be heard, so we need to go easy on ourselves.

We need to clearly define the difference between mental illness, which requires professional help, and mental health, which we all have, good or bad, like physical health.

The ‘inspirational’ part of what I do is just that: increasing awareness, motivation, but also introducing personal development techniques so that we can create a positive impact on our mental health every single day – those marginal gains.

For me, the message I want to leave you with right now is this: keep it simple and keep it human. There will be no ‘one size fits all’ approach to bringing people back into the workforce. Everyone has a different experience of lockdown, homeworking and coming away from lockdown.

To forge deeper relationships with people, use vulnerability as your superpower; to get more from them, give more of yourself.


Authored by Nick Elston. Nick is one of the leading inspirational speakers on the lived experience of mental health.