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Two partners talk about their mental health

It takes courage to talk openly about our mental health, especially at work. So when leaders share their own experiences, it sends a powerful message – it’s okay to be yourself and to speak up.

Two of Deloitte’s mental health champions, partners Steve Larke and Rhys Cartledge, have done exactly that. Their openness has led to them being named among the 42 corporate role models on the first InsideOut leaderboard.

Published in The Sunday Times in March 2019, the leaderboard lists senior executives who are making the workplace more inclusive by being ‘out’ about their struggles. It was created by Rob Stephenson, founder of social enterprise InsideOut, who lives with bipolar disorder. He hopes the momentum behind the initiative will ensure disclosing mental ill heath at work becomes no different to reporting a physical condition.

Here, Steve and Rhys tell their stories.

What are your experiences of mental ill health?

Steve: “It was about four-and-a-half years ago that I was diagnosed with depression and started to get treatment. It had been there on and off but wasn’t something I felt able to deal with because of fear of the unknown and denial. How could I be depressed when I had a good life, happy family and successful career?

“I was waking up about 4am most mornings, feeling dreadful but very good at hiding it. Eventually, my wife was able to persuade me to go to my GP. I’ve generally been a lot better since and now accept it is part of who I am.”

Rhys: “My experience has been a combination of OCD, anxiety and depression. Initially, I didn’t do anything about it as I thought ‘that’s just the way it is'.

“When I was in my twenties, two people I knew passed away and that triggered health anxiety and OCD about my heart – I was convinced it was going to happen to me. When my family and friends noticed how much I was struggling, I started to get help.”

Was it a difficult decision to speak out?

Rhys: “It’s happened over time and I’ve gradually become more comfortable talking about it, which led to me becoming a champion. It’s never been an easy thing, but now I’m all in.”

Steve: “It’s similar for me. I think greater public awareness around mental health, with even the Royal Family openly addressing it, has helped. Being confident and open has had quite a powerful impact.”

Why is it important to be open?

Steve: “We should be more open, transparent and human as leaders in general. If there’s a culture that makes people unwell, we’ve got to do everything we can to end it.

"I also believe we should be open with our clients. When the InsideOut leaderboard was published I shared it on LinkedIn and had a great response, including from clients. We can learn from each other and also ensure that our client project environments are healthy places for our teams to work.”

Rhys: “Sharing my story has allowed me to develop the skills to support people – I think I’m a better leader because of it. I’ve had the opportunity to meet colleagues who are going through this and who may have different perspectives or found other things that work.”

Rob Stephenson at InsideOut says there can be positives to mental illness. Do you agree?

Steve: “It can be difficult to see positives in depression, but I certainly feel it’s helped me with empathy. The insight it’s given me has enabled me to become a more effective leader and has taught me not to take things at face value. Now I’m more aware of my depression, I’m more productive and have a better understanding of how I work.”

Rhys: “I agree that it’s changed my approach to dealing with other people and I’m probably more empathetic than I used to be.”

What would you say to anyone who is afraid to open up?

Steve: “Everybody’s situation is unique to them, but if you talk to someone and get help you’ll have a better outcome. There aren’t consequences; being open about mental health is now part of our culture.”

Rhys: “It’s hard and the impact of being open about mental health shouldn’t be underestimated. However, for me, it wasn’t as hard as struggling with it on my own, day in and day out, for many years.

“There are lots of possibilities in terms of support and I would encourage people to understand more about them and work out which one might be best for them. There is no right answer for everybody; I have done everything from medication and exercise to cognitive behavioural therapy and acupuncture, and at different times these have all had a positive impact.”

“The 42 people on the leaderboard are trailblazers and the first to put their names to it. The aims are threefold – to reinforce that our leaders are open in the workplace, to encourage role models to post on LinkedIn as part of our Smashing the Stigma campaign, and to create a ripple effect so more leaders follow suit.”

Rob Stephenson, founder, InsideOut

Championing wellbeing at Deloitte

We are committed to building a culture that encourages our people to be open about their experiences. As two of our 20-plus mental health champions, Rhys and Steve each meet between 30 and 35 people a year who are looking for support. Rhys also co-sponsors our wellbeing network Thrive.

“One in four of our people are likely to struggle with mental health issues at some point,” says Steve. “We owe it to them to be role models and to show we’re doing all we can to provide a safe, inclusive and respectful workplace.”

Rhys adds: “I think we’re doing very well at Deloitte, although we still have further to go. We’re doing a huge amount to get the message out and have lots of things in place to support what we’re saying.

“The launch of the new Thrive network around general wellbeing is a big and important step forward, as I would like to see us move away from providing support when people have an issue to making sure they don’t arise in the first place. This isn’t always possible, but we can certainly limit any negative impact that the working environment has on our people and their health.”

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