I must be getting older, because the years definitely feel shorter. Work, children, chores, work, friends, birthdays, work trips, school duties, volunteering, kids' sports, work ... where does the time go? And let me just say, I love it all, but sometimes I feel like a circus performer with lots of balls in the air, frantically trying to keep them all up, and therefore never truly being able to focus on one of them. So when, as a firm, we took some time out to take stock of each of our "work/life" balances, we realised that a lot of our stress came from our own choices. This created an interesting realisation that began a shifting of mindset: if we can create our own stress (positive and negative), then certainly we can control those stresses. Trying to focus on one juggling ball would only result in dropping them all, but what if you could continue to juggle all the balls in slow motion?
There has been a lot of effort to begin conversations about mental health and well-being in the public domain recently. And I would strongly encourage the conversation to continue. However, the concept still carries a lot of negative stigma. Until very recently, I consciously wore a mask behind which I would hide my feelings, emotions and stresses from the outside world and myself – because that's what Dad and Grandpa did. Isn't that what it means to be a "man"? Recent debate in the public forum hopefully means that a lot of us are starting to realise that the concept of hiding how we are feeling negatively impacts more than our own lives. And with statistics, released by Beyond Blue, revealing that one in six Australians is currently experiencing depression or anxiety or both, it is likely that we are or someone we know are engaged in this battle right now.
Recently I experienced, through an insolvency appointment, the devastating effect that depression can have on a family, community and business. Early last year, I was asked to assist with the winding up of a business's affairs after the sole director took his own life. A young man with a wife and three young children. Approached by one of his family friends, it was apparent how many people were affected by this tragedy. But upon reflection, it also seemed so unfathomable that he was unable to see how strong a support network was available to him. Since then I have learned, somewhat shockingly, how the "black dog" can compel the mind into utterly irrational thoughts and behaviours. However, I have also learnt that depression, like a lot of mental illness, is a fluid state of mind and can be treated.
Driven by a desire to do more to help clients suffering mental ill-health and offer improved support for our employees exposed to 'second-hand' stress, we turned to Beyond Blue to help create a dynamic new mental health program. During the last six months, we have undertaken a number of initiatives to help slow the juggling balls, taking the time to notice our behaviours and that of those around us. The public conversation is great for awareness, but how do you recognise the symptoms in your universe and then what can you do about it?
Through the use of Mental Health Awareness seminars, the Mental Health First Aid certificate and Walk and Talk "Netwalking" tours of Sydney, Newcastle, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth, we were able to engage with our colleagues and clients in a new way. Unlike physical injuries, the signs of mental health are not as obvious and likewise, neither are the remedies. But, conversely, you don't need to be a doctor to make a difference. I have learnt that a simple question like "Are you OK?" can have an enormous impact.
The challenge for us all is to notice the signs and take action (including self-acknowledgment). Mental Health First Aid Australia, suggests the following action plan ("AL-GEE"):
A – Approach the person, assess and assist with any crisis;
L – Listen and communicate non-judgementally;
G – Give support and information;
E – Encourage the person to get the appropriate professional help
E – Encourage other supports
The example provided earlier resulted in the business closing. This meant loss of employment, bad debt for creditors, clients being exposed to overruns and losses and the forfeiture of 20 years of goodwill and shareholder value. The fallout for each of the stakeholders will have a negative financial impact. However, the human element within business came to the fore, with all parties understanding the traumatic nature of the circumstances, pulling together to get through the process. The insolvency process ran smoothly, but the situation and outcome is one that I hope never to have to repeat.
Credit professionals, like insolvency professionals, are at times on the front line of business distress. But this puts us in a position to offer support. Through our initiatives I have learnt that often the first person to notice behavioural changes is not a family member. So taking the time to slow the juggling balls, I hope that we may just be able to avert a catastrophe.
I would encourage all members to begin the conversation within their own businesses. And I would be more than happy to discuss our experiences in further detail, with any member, to help start that conversation.
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
Lifeline 13 11 14
*Andrew Spring MICM
Ph: 1300 265 753