#ThisIsMyStory: senior business leaders speak out about mental illness

Claudia Hammond interviews Samantha Brown

Claudia Hammond interviews Samantha Brown

Change comes when people speak out to break the silence – and that’s what happened this week when no fewer than seven senior business leaders gathered in the auditorium at Deloitte in London to tell their personal stories of mental illness, honestly, fearlessly and bravely, #ThisIsMyStory-style. There was total silence in the room as Aidan Bell of Spencer Stuart delivered a deeply moving narrative of breakdown, recovery and change, and as Redwood CEO Sarah Cremer told her painful story of suffering for so long in private. The ever-growing membership of Minds@Work (founded only a year ago by Geoff McDonald, Made by Many’s Georgie Mack and Camilla Upson of the Forward Institute) heard similarly powerful testimonies from Samantha Brown of Herbert Smith Freehills and Brian Heyworth of HSBC. And we were grateful to be able to welcome Claudia Hammond of Radio 4’s All In The Mind programe to lead a conversation between Sir Ian Cheshire of Debenhams and Tim Griffin of Dell on the work that’s being doing to destigmatise speaking out, and what needs to change in future. 

Claudia Hammond, Sir Ian Cheshire and Tim Griffin

Claudia Hammond, Sir Ian Cheshire and Tim Griffin

This was the biggest and boldest Minds@Work meeting yet, and it marked a milestone in our big, bold mission: to effect change by encouraging senior business figures to “come out” about their struggles with mental illness, as leaders in sport and entertainment have been doing for some time. It’s on the way to being achieved thanks to Geoff McDonald’s efforts in recruiting these heroes and heroines, and to the leaders themselves for their courage and honesty. “Vulnerability is the most accurate measure of courage”, as Geoff said.

From left: Sara Cremer, Jane McNeill, Lynette Deutsch and Samantha Brown

From left: Sara Cremer, Jane McNeill, Lynette Deutsch and Samantha Brown

Depression needn’t be a depressing subject to talk about, and certainly not when ringmaster David Pearl is present: for this event he (along with Inge Relph) facilitated an enjoyable audience intervention to encourage people to break the invisible walls that separate us all, by talking. The evening was also topped off by an equally entertaining talk from the flamboyant and proudly bipolar Robin Wight of the Engine group, a specialist on why bipolarity should be seen as a creative asset.

Robin Wight gets a round of applause from the Minds@Work

Robin Wight gets a round of applause from the Minds@Work

Still, this mission is only really in its infancy, and Geoff, Georgie and Mills are aiming to take the Minds@Work movement not only national, but international very soon. If you’re interested in taking part or supporting the project, get in touch with us through the links on the homepage. We're also grateful for the beautiful summary of the evening written by Minds@Work member Louise Chunn on her Welldoing blog here, and Philippa Goodrich’s news story for the BBC here.

Geoff McDonald leads the conversation

Geoff McDonald leads the conversation

With thanks to all the speakers; and David, Emma, Tim and Santanu at Deloitte; Aidan and Natalie at Spencer Stuart; Sallyann, Tim, Roz and the team at Happynesshub; Vivienne Berryman and Hannah Tyson at Made by Many; Stacy Thomson at Impact Coaching.

Words: Kevin Braddock. Photography: Eva Palazuelo