David Westgate is successful. He's a businessman, a father, a keynote speaker. David is also a sufferer. Bi-Polar 1, for the past 40 years. Success and mental illness are not mutually exclusive. David, and the nearly 5 million Australians who suffer from mental illness in any given year, are testament to that.
In 2002, David founded Club20. A mental illness initiative where he shares his experiences living and working with mental illness, with the aim to help others who suffer the same. I recently had the opportunity to speak with David. We talked about his experiences, why he chooses to speak out, and what businesses and organisations need to do, legitimately, genuinely, and tangibly, to improve mental health in the workplace.
What was your experience?
David: "I suffer from Bipolar 1. Which is often called the rollercoaster mental illness. It's really low, suicidal lows, and then really high, crazy manic highs. For me, I fought very hard against it. I put on my mask. I put on my smiley mask and went to work and worked really, really hard to cover it up. And nobody, nobody ever knew that I suffered. But doing that, hiding it, is really, really exhausting."
When did things change?
"I got to a point, about 12 years ago, I'd just been doing it all myself. I remember, we took the kids to Disneyland, and I had a really bad time. I had really bad insomnia, and just had very, very bad depression. When I got back to Sydney, it was like I'd run out of batteries. So I finally went and saw somebody about it. I got diagnosed and started taking care of myself.
"Then maybe 4 or 5 years ago, because I'm an old fart, I thought, I can start talking about this in my career. It won't affect me. People knew me, they might not know about my mental health, but they knew me and they weren't going to run away and not use me any more because I have a mental illness. So I just started talking about it, publicly."
What has been the reaction?
"I think because I've been pretty open about it and pretty confident about it, people have just gone, 'Oh, okay. This is really quite interesting.' But the only thing I'd say about that is, a lot of people say to me "oh you're really brave." But I'm not. Because being brave would have been doing this when I was 35. The reaction then might have been a whole different ballgame. So I haven't been brave. I've been a bit cowardly if anything, waiting until the very end of my career."
Why is there a stigma around mental health at work?
"Stigma comes from ignorance. And people don't know a lot about mental illness. And they automatically become fearful of things they don't know about."
What can businesses do to overcome this stigma?
"Education. The big thing I think is becoming more educated about mental health. To be able to talk about it, so that it becomes a normal thing. Because after all it is only an illness. And illnesses can be cured, or they can be managed."
What do businesses need to do to make mental health education effective?
"You have to know that the bosses and management buy into it. That they're heavily involved in it, because otherwise nothing ever works. But I think also, you have to find ways to approach it from the bottom, and try to talk directly to people. So it's not just about relying on management to take care of the issues. The fact of the matter is, often managers are just as likely, if not more likely, to be suffering from mental health issues."'
Nearly half of all Australians will experience mental illness at some point in their lives. It is pervasive and treacherous. That's why Yarno has recently developed a mental health campaign. By focusing on self-awareness, our course reduces all barriers to connect. We aim to ensure that all persons in all positions have the tools they need to start conversations about, deal with, and seek help for their own mental health. To learn more, click here or call Mark on 0401 872 305. You can also see a short demo of the actual course here.
*By clicking through to the demo of Yarno's mental health course, you will be taken to a login page. But it's just a demo, so there's no need to actually put in your details. Just click the big orange "log in" button, and you're good to go!
Courtney is the face behind the Yarno blog. She’s our fact-finding expert, Instagram connoisseur and the only person we know who can write 1500 words and fix a fence in the same half hour.
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