An interview with Geoff McDonald
“Stigma killed my friend” says Geoff McDonald movingly “why wasn’t he able to talk?”
Geoff is a former Global Head of HR at Unilever. He now heads up the mental health charity, Minds@Work, devoting his time and energy to changing the narrative around how we discuss mental health in the workplace.
The catalyst for this career change was the death of his good friend Nico, a banker, who had felt unable to talk about his depression. His friend’s story was in stark contrast to Geoff’s own experience.
While at Unilever SpeakersHub speaker Geoff was diagnosed with anxiety-fuelled depression. Openly sharing his diagnosis with his colleagues, family and friends he felt supported as he sought treatment but it was only when Nico died that Geoff realised the extent of the stigma that exists around Mental Health.
Research reveals that a staggering 71% of people would worry about disclosing a mental health problem to their employer, fearful of receiving a negative response. A valid concern given that 1 in 5 people have lost a job at some point in their life following mental health disclosure or inappropriate disclosure on their behalf.
Geoff wants this situation to change. His mission now is to normalise conversations about Mental Health in the workplace by sharing personal stories. He wants to prevent more people dying from the stigma of mental illness.
It is becoming increasingly commonplace to hear celebrities and sports personalities share their mental health struggles in public, thanks in no small part to the work of the Heads Together campaign backed by the Royals.
“Great progress is being made but when was the last time you heard a business leader admit to a mental health problem?” asks Geoff “I want to change this.”
According to the Health & Safety Executive there were 11.7million lost working days in 2016 as a result of Mental Health issues. Faced with a figure like this, the benefits to employers of investing in their employee’s mental wellbeing and actively looking to how they can decrease workplace stress are glaringly obvious.
“We make investments in Health & Safety in companies”, says Geoff “so why can’t we treat investment in the support for the Mental Health needs of our employees in the same way?”
“It’s about shifting the narrative to normalise these conversations so that people feel they have someone to turn to.” Geoff’s mission is to create workplace cultures where talking about mental health is not stigmatised, where people feel able to share openly and be supported by their employers.
Geoff practices what he preaches. He describes how he now builds what he calls ”recovery moments” into his day, a simple walk to the coffee machine to take a few moments out, taking the dog out, going for a swim. Allowing himself time to just be is part of his every day, his new normal, best demonstrated in his daily commute into London.
“These days when I get on the train I will wait until we have gone past four stations before I switch on my phone. I don’t read or listen to music or check the news, I just sit and watch the view from the window before throwing myself into the business of the day.”
A simple piece of advice we could all learn from.
Minds@Work aims to break the stigma of depression and anxiety in the working world. They want to create mentally and emotionally healthy and human workplaces where individuals can flourish and organisations prosper.
Geoff is also a regular contributor to our Connect programme. For more details on our 2018 progranmme and to download the brochure go to Connect 2018.