Running A Business + Managing Mental Health

With mental health awareness week in full swing I thought I’d write a blog post about the rarely discussed topic of running a business while trying to manage mental health issues. This is a blog I’ve been wanting to write for a long time but have honestly been afraid to. As improvements are being made, slowly, in society in regards to the subject of mental health, the taboo of discussing the topic is still very much present and even more so in Business. The norm is we’re supposed to present the best possible face of ourselves at all times, new products, happy faces, instawhatever so there are probably many people who would advise against publicly admitting what is still seen widely as a weakness, but what’s the point of calling ourselves barefaced if we can’t embody that every once in a while, and if just one person reads this and it helps it will have been worthwhile. 

 

Most of you reading will know me as the head of Barefaced, bearded bald man who will bore the life out of you talking about how we get the bubbles in the beer or any number of inane topics, normally with a drink in hand trying to give people illegal hugs, sorry not sorry Boris. I was 13 when I was diagnosed with depression eventually having it upgraded to Major Depressive Disorder or Dysthymia (basically it hasn’t gone away since then) with General Anxiety added on as a garnish in my late 20’s. Not the ideal make up for running a business that is complicated even on an easy day you might think but not impossible and even wonderful in some ways.

A global pandemic where our industry has been changed and stretched to its limits could be seen as the ultimate test in mental health management and please be assured it’s not one that I’ve seen anyone handle perfectly. Our current project has involved moving into a new 200 msq production space during all of this and during the near 6 month building process I would estimate in the range of 30 panic attacks, 8 injuries, a few too many beers and some heartbreak have made for an interesting journey. An imperfect record for people with mental health gives as a natural inclination to avoid giving advice but here we go.

I’ve always worked in Hospitality and in the early years was extremely secretive and ashamed of my mental health issues, hiding it from managers and staff alike in a constant state of fear of people finding out. Like a lot of people this softened as I grew up with mixed responses. Not all people take the news well and I’ve experienced the full range of responses over the years but my first piece of advice would be that if you can, just let it all out. More often than not people will at minimum understand and when the dark days come it makes things much easier to manage without having to put on a thinly veneered act of peaches and cream.

The other major bonus of telling everyone is that you realise quite quickly that everyone has some experience with mental health issues. Either they’ve gone through phases or have friends or family that suffer with a condition and the love and support you can get from a great hospo team is truly inspiring. A particular shout out goes to Georgie at The Thirsty Bird who has always been the most empathetic and helpful friend having had to put up with the best and worst of my serotonin deficient behaviour over the years. We’ve worked together on and off for over ten years eventually with me working for her at her amazing cafe | bar, the best example I use often for why you should tell people what you’ve got going on.

For some of you this may not be possible and there is a list at the bottom of this post for anyone who feels like they need help and support, never be ashamed or afraid to ask for help.

When it came to starting a business the impact it would have on mental health was a massive concern for me and Nick. I was incredibly lucky to have a business partner who was always supportive and patient and highlights the next key aspect to working with mental health, your support network. We had many many many conversations in the start about how we would build in plans for bad days and mental management that ranged from Nick reading email drafts for tone on bad days with helpful edits to doing regular check ins and chats about what was going on. There were also a good few mental health days over the years where he just took over when I couldn’t go on. If you don’t have a business set up like this I would stress the importance of having anyone in your life, partner, family, friends or whoever that can at least listen to what’s going on and act as a sounding board. I’ve always found it helpful to stay mindful and be aware when your condition is driving the car or you are.

 

Mindfulness is an extremely useful tool in general when your behaviour gets co-opted nearly constantly and as a basic premise just means being aware of where your head's at. This can be as simple as checking in with yourself each day, to much more elaborate forms that you will eventually be able to do without thinking about it. There are behaviours I now notice that act as clues that a downward cycle might be coming and it’s time to kick in some coping mechanisms or talk to someone before it gets out of control. The examples I can share are for anxiety I start avoiding stepping on cracks in the street or clicking uncontrollably or for depression it’s always when a negative thought will be directed at something innocuous, “why did I leave that there, what an idiot I am”. No one cares about the mop and it’s human to lose a mop every once in a while. 

It’s not all negative and managing things though, there are also positives that I think you can take away from having mental health issues in Business. We deliver to a range of different venues all across Dorset which means now I have a range of Bar Managers, Owners, Chefs and all sorts of people who act as an extra layer of support that I don’t think you’d receive in many jobs. You also have the opportunity for taking your own experiences and using it to help others. Hospitality is an industry that has a high level of workers who suffer with one condition or another and in true fisherman can spot a fisherman style, it can be extremely rewarding helping someone else you see who’s suffering, even if it’s just listening.

We started brewing Speak Out IPA in collaboration with the Burnt Chef Project a couple of years ago and hope that once this Covid cloud has partially lifted we can get back to pushing a beer that's profits go towards a project providing mental health awareness and training in the hospitality market. They work closely with Mind and have such an amazing mission I urge you to support them in any way possible. 

 

This support network also goes both ways. We are looking forward to being a larger employer that can provide a supportive and comfortable environment for people to be themselves in jobs where they feel supported and protected against any kind of repercussions. People don’t choose mental health conditions and the positive strides I mentioned earlier have come nowhere near a point that from the inside feels amazing. From the cultural lexicon that uses “crazy” as throwaway term to the available options in treatment on the NHS. Disclaimer here, I love the NHS and am not slighting any of the people who dedicate their lives to selflessly helping others, it’s politicians who have control over a system that offers such little help to mental health sufferers. 

 

It’s by far the best part of our job to be around happy people having a good time for a living and it goes against my years doing that job to potentially bring any of you down but hopefully something in this blog post will make a difference to someone. As with the posts we’ve written in the past, if anyone would like to discuss any of these issues further, call us any time and we’ll be here and if you are truly struggling with someone always reach out and speak out.

Samaritans. To talk about anything that is upsetting you, you can contact Samaritans 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can call 116 123 (free from any phone), email jo@samaritans.org or visit some branches in person. You can also call the Samaritans Welsh Language Line on 0808 164 0123 (7pm–11pm every day).

 

SANEline. If you're experiencing a mental health problem or supporting someone else, you can call SANEline on 0300 304 7000 (4.30pm–10.30pm every day).

The Mix. If you're under 25, you can call The Mix on 0808 808 4994 (Sunday-Friday 2pm–11pm), request support by email using this form on The Mix website or use their crisis text messenger service.

Papyrus HOPELINEUK. If you're under 35 and struggling with suicidal feelings, or concerned about a young person who might be struggling, you can call Papyrus HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 4141 (weekdays 10am-10pm, weekends 2pm-10pm and bank holidays 2pm–10pm), email pat@papyrus-uk.org or text 07786 209 697.

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). If you identify as male, you can call the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) on 0800 58 58 58 (5pm–midnight every day) or use their webchat service.

Nightline. If you're a student, you can look on the Nightline website to see if your university or college offers a night-time listening service. Nightline phone operators are all students too.

Switchboard. If you identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, you can call Switchboard on 0300 330 0630 (10am–10pm every day), email chris@switchboard.lgbt or use their webchat service. Phone operators all identify as LGBT+.

C.A.L.L. If you live in Wales, you can call the Community Advice and Listening Line (C.A.L.L.) on 0800 132 737 (open 24/7) or you can text 'help' followed by a question to 81066.

Helplines Partnership. For more options, visit the Helplines Partnership website for a directory of UK helplines. Mind's Infoline can also help you find services that can support you. If you're outside the UK, the Befrienders Worldwide website has a tool to search by country for emotional support helplines around the world.