How are you doing, man?
Saturday the 19th of November marks international men’s day, a time to focus on the mental health and wellbeing issues that men across the world face which are far too often ignored. We’d like to take the time to share the mental health journey of Danny Smith, our Head of Cash & Self Service Operations, and his tips for improving your mental health and wellbeing.
Danny Smith – our Head of Customer & Planning – has been with the bank for 23 years. He started his career with us as a Cash Handler in one of our cash centres, moving across different business areas, before re-joining Cash Operations in his new leadership role.
Danny is a huge advocate for mental health, having already shared his own experience with colleagues during Mental Health Awareness Week a few years ago. After doing so, he was then invited to join events looking at our approach to mental health. Danny spoke to us about his experience and his hope of encouraging other men to talk about their mental health too:
‘That first conversation was hard; I was completely out of my comfort zone. As is the case with so many other men – younger men in particular – it’s a battle to even say the words “I’m struggling, and I need help”.’
When Danny was younger, he felt like something wasn’t right. As things progressed in his life, he eventually reached the point where he went for an assessment. Danny recalls:
‘Sitting in a mental health unit, surrounded by others who were there for their own assessments and treatments, I started to really think how I’d be perceived. Am I the same as them? What will my family and friends think? Will this help me? ‘That first conversation was hard; I was completely out of my comfort zone. As is the case with so many other men – younger men in particular – it’s a battle to even say the words “I’m struggling, and I need help”.
‘The mental health conversation back then, even just seven or eight years ago, wasn’t like it is now. I felt the stigma. People’s comments of “what have you got to be worried about?” Turns out that the assessment led to my diagnosis of bipolar disorder. This was also the beginning of me starting to understand myself. To accept myself. And to move forwards.
‘Before I posted that initial message on Workplace, my team didn’t know about my struggle. I’d spoken to my manager though and I was honest about my experience and was relieved to have their support. I’m lucky as I’ve always held down a job, which isn’t necessarily the case for someone with bipolar. I think my colleagues saw my Workplace post and it gave them an understanding of some of the things they’d seen me say or do previously. Looking back, because I hadn’t shared with them before that post, they wouldn’t have understood the consequences of saying or doing certain things when I’m in an elevated state. How could they? I hadn’t told them.’
Find what works for you
Bipolar disorder is episodes of extreme highs and lows, which can last for several weeks. The low episodes are perhaps more commonly known and discussed, but for Danny he feels like the alternate, hyper side can be even more damaging to others. Balancing the low mood and lethargy, with periods of mania and overactivity is a challenging task, and Danny has used the time since his diagnosis to understand his triggers, to learn, find copying mechanisms, and to talk.
‘I look back at my own dad and think about how he dealt with challenges in the past, and I look at my children and think about how they are doing it now; we’re in a generation now where, thankfully, its more accepted to speak openly.’
Everyone is different, and what works for one person may not have the same result in someone else. Danny explains:
‘Over the years since my diagnosis I’ve tried talking therapy, and it took a couple of counsellors until I found one I clicked with – that’s an important thing for people to consider, just because you don’t feel the benefit with one counsellor it doesn’t mean you’ll have the same experience with all of them. It’s important to find the right person who you feel comfortable enough with to reap the benefits. It is also important to talk with family, they are often the ones that are impacted the most during these episodes and talking to help them understand what is going on.
‘I look back at my own dad and think about how he dealt with challenges in the past, and I look at my children and think about how they are doing it now. We’re in a generation now where, thankfully, its more accepted to speak openly.
However, it is also a generation with constant pressure through social media etc that can add more pressure.
‘Journaling, exercising, and eating a healthy well-rounded diet are a help to me. I can spot my triggers much better now. That said, during lockdown I found some old feelings were creeping up. That’s the thing with bipolar disorder, I’ll need to manage it and reassess what works and doesn’t work, and tailor my approach for life. ‘I’m now juggling being a parent to four children, work, and my inner battle. I keep coming back to my tried and tested mechanisms. When I’m in an elevated state I know how to channel it better – I try and get absorbed with activities that channel my energy like Golf, DIY, or just cleaning up after my children!
‘Another coping strategy for me is to retreat and have some quiet time. My family recognise that now, my need to stop and allow me to have a period of quiet so that I can recharge and reassess.
‘It really helped me initially to read about others’ experiences, people such as Stephen Fry who also has bipolar, as you see the similarities between you. Books don’t have the answer, you still need to figure out what works for you, but reading helps to build your knowledge and break down some of the beliefs that hold you back from managing it. Overall, though, the most crucial thing I can say is to start speaking about what’s going on and how you feel. It can feel very lonely but you soon realise you are not alone’
Danny continues to be involved in various talks and events at work. With his drive and passion to get the mental health discussions going, we hope that his experience helps to further break down some barriers stopping others getting the help they need too.
Let’s use International Men’s Day this year to make strides and keep the conversation going.
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