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“It’s brave to speak up, and fortune favours the brave.”
In years more recent than is comfortable to admit, the term ‘man up’ was widely accepted and used throughout society, implying that people weren’t ‘tough’ if they displayed vulnerable feelings of any kind. Thankfully, realisation is dawning that not only is the full spectrum of feelings ‘normal’, but acknowledging rather than hiding them is a brave thing to do.
Our CEO & co-founder, Richard Lucas, has been speaking to the Independent about his own embedded stigmas, what it took to tackle them and explains how all this led to the birth of Govox Wellbeing.
When I was in my early forties, I was faced with the realisation that one of my colleagues, a young individual who I was responsible for, had attempted to take his own life. However, I was far from thinking that I was potentially part of the ‘problem’.
I had been surrounded by tough men all my life. I was educated at an all-boys grammar school and began my working career as a gas engineer before working up the ranks to a managerial role in this male-dominated industry. Outside of education and work, I have been a lifelong rugby player, as well as coaching and chairing for a grassroots club. In all areas of my life, I spent time in environments that were seen as tough and it wasn’t the norm to speak out if you were struggling. Things didn’t bother me, I just got on and got the job done.
Around the same time as the event in work, we lost two young local boys in nearby rugby clubs to suicide. Embarrassingly, I started to realise that I could be part of the ‘Man Up’ generation, a phrase I hate and really hope I never directly used. I had spent my life in stereotypically ‘macho’ environments and that had likely manifested in how I now took responsibility for others, either as line manager, business leader, rugby coach or even father. Something had to change, I wanted to be part of the solution, not the problem.
Since that lightbulb moment, I have started to think and act differently. These events spurred me to set-up an online wellbeing platform that now supports workplaces, sports clubs and educational organisations globally - places where there is often a gap between available wellbeing support and the time taken to get help. Our mission is simple: to save lives.
We want to move from the ‘Man Up’ generation (and ‘Woman Up’ which is a phrase I’ve also heard used) to the ‘Speak Up’ generation. I’m particularly proud of our recently launched programme which is offering our platform for free to 1000 state secondary schools. We want to create a society where people know that, if they don’t feel great, they can talk to someone and there’s help available. The leaders of tomorrow are in our schools today so, if we can encourage this shift in mindset now, it will be brilliant to see how they start to imbed these sentiments into organisations when they enter the workplace.
My journey over the last four years has involved a lot of soul searching and research to combat stigma around mental health that was embedded in my ‘macho’ upbringing. I’ve had amazing support from experts and professionals from organisations such as NHSx, King’s College London and mental health charities such as Local Mind and LooseHeadz, all of which point to the simplest of solutions: talking and speaking up. So if I can share my journey, and it can help even one person, then I’m keen to take that opportunity.
One of the main traits of the ‘Man Up’ generation I had to combat is that being tough isn’t about hiding your feelings and soldiering on. The toughest people around us ask for help. That is the bravest move and will ultimately be the most empowering.
Secondly, our research and experiences with the wellbeing platform have shown that often those in our circles who are struggling the most are the ones we least expect. We hear a lot about mental health challenges being invisible, but it can often be worse than that. People can develop an amazing ability to wear a mask that hides their deepest issues. In many cases that resulted in someone attempting to take their own life, they were often individuals who were seen as the life and soul of the party.
And finally, we all have responsibility for others in different ways. The teachers in our schools, our managers and wellbeing champions at work and even our coaches at local sports clubs are all part of our wellbeing networks. Nobody is expected to be able to spot every issue and support everyone; we also need support alongside the tools and training to effectively be able to support others, so don’t feel daunted by it. We are all in this together.
I no longer look back embarrassed about being part of the problem. I understand why and every day get presented with brilliant opportunities to learn more and pass that on to our superb clients, partners and network. Ultimately, by being more open and creating the right environments for those around me to speak up, I am able to be a better leader, friend, partner and father.
It's no longer a tough thing to ‘Man Up’. It’s brave to speak up, and fortune favours the brave.
Article as written for Independent Voices column.
Using wellbeing solutions steeped in innovative technology, Govox provides data and insights that helps leaders in schools , sports clubs and the workplace spot at-risk individuals and give much-needed support.
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