Suicide is something that across all borders but is three times more common in men than women. Suicide is, also, tragically, the greatest cause of death in men under 50.
Over 6,000 people across the UK commit suicide every year. Tens of thousands more attempt it, with a frightening 1 in 20 attempting suicide at some point in their lives.
Since writing about entrepreneurs, many have told me of mental health struggles of their own and how difficult a subject it is for entrepreneurs, supposedly strong, successful people, to open up and talking about.
I was therefore especially pleased to be talking to Rob Sanders, M.D.of the Legacy Partnership, an organization supporting men’s mental health.
The Legacy Partnership:
The Legacy Partnership believes that the achievement of anything is possible with the development of your mindset and you can re-set your mind to leave behind a great legacy.
They work with individuals, groups, and organizations. They help all aspects of mental health including stress and burnout in entrepreneurs.
Rob was a sports coach and additionally a sports therapist. He also had a Thai Boxing gym. The mindset side of coaching and its role in sports success, fitness, and weight loss had always fascinated him.
One day, he found out one of his clients had agoraphobia. This made Rob realize he wanted to move into mental health and he studied for a TCM Coaching Masters and as an NLP Practitioner.
When he was training to be a coach, and therefore being coached himself, Rob realized that he had suffered from depression. His Dad had died, and he had been determined to be strong for his Mum and brother, but in the long run, it impacted his mental health.
From Essex originally, when Rob got married, he moved north to be near his wife’s family. His wife introduced him to an old school friend, Davey Hoops.
A few years previously, Davey had been made redundant, and that had become a catalyst to tip him into depression. He was given medication, and lay around, too miserable and lethargic to cook, rapidly gaining weight. He turned to a coach for help, lost 70lbs, and overcome his depression.
Davey had set up a mental and physical well-being company, First Step Lifestyle. Rob says the gym is uniquely designed for nervous, self-conscious people and everything is positive from the moment people enter.
Rob and Davey quickly realized they were coming from the same direction. They set up the Legacy Partnership in January 2020, initially for the sports world. Davey has contacts in football and Rob has trained several professional golfers. COVID has meant that people are paying more attention to mental health, but also many are fearful of going out or going back to work, and their client base has broadened.
Rob speaks highly of the book “The End of Mental Illness” by Dr. Daniel G Amen. Dr. Amen is a prolific author on mental illness and argues that this is the only area where doctors diagnose in ten minutes without physical tests. Neuroscience is transforming psychiatry, and at his Amen Clinics in the U.S., they use brain scanning as the diagnostic tool. 79% of their recommendations are different from those by traditional methods.
They use coaching, nutrition, and therapy to help their patients. Rob is quick to emphasize that medicines are definitely still necessary for some types of mental health treatment, especially those that stem from a chemical in-balance.
The Legacy Partnership describes that they “help men release their inner wolf to break-free from anxiety and depression and achieve the lie they dream of.” Davey came up with the #becomethewolf concept from the coaching principle of re-setting things we can’t change. Davey replaced his “black dog” as a wolf. A wolf is something strong, that needs a pack but can also be independent.
The importance of talking in suicide prevention:
The charity “Heads Together” has received publicity thanks to its royal patronage. Yet here is still much more needing to be done to encourage people to break down the stigmas around this subject.
Rob shared these stats with me from the MHFA site.
- one in four people in the U.K. have a mental health problem every year
- one in six reports a problem such as anxiety or depression every week
It seems incredible that we talk so little about something that impacts so many.
Entrepreneurs are now talking about mental health, but it should have happened years ago. Only recently was Burnout classified as a mental illness, yet untreated, it leads to other mental health issues. People often fail to recognize their symptoms until they hear them. Talking brings a lightbulb moment of “that sounds like me.”
Slowly people are starting to understand that there is a link between physical and mental. Walking in nature has a biological reaction that results in greater clarity. Exercise helps us function better mentally, and we make better decisions.
But there is still an enormous stigma about talking about mental health issues. For example, while 57% of all working time off is stress-related, 90% is attributed to different reasons.
I asked Rob why people don’t talk about it openly. He says it can be that people believe they won’t be understood, or that it can’t be fixed or they are afraid people will treat them differently. It can be difficult, for example, when someone tells their employer as the usual reaction is to lessen the workload. However, someone depressed often sees that as confirmation, they aren’t good enough.
It is especially hard for men. Rob went home to Essex recently, and a good friend started to talk about his problems but immediately broke it off, apologizing and trying to dismiss it. This scenario is all too common but very dangerous and potentially lead to suicides.
Rob also has a lot of friends in the building industry, and this s typical of where you find the worst suicide statistics within manual labor and a very macho world.
Part of the stigma also comes from a lack of information. For example, Dr. Amen found that many bipolar people have had physical trauma to the brain at an earlier point. People breathing in toxins can suffer mood swings. Poor circulation can also mean poor circulation within the brain.
In the same way, people are only just hearing about the connection between diet and depression. When Rob and Davey did a talk for Bristol City Football Club recently, they shared a list of fifteen foods that specifically help mental health; turmeric, for example, is terrific. The more we talk, the more knowledge we share.
The saddest outcome of the lack of talking is when it gets to the point of suicide. Rob says this is something people are very reluctant to talk about the issues of suicide. Both Rob and Davey always tread very lightly when coaching, but they do share the very frightening suicide statistics to heighten awareness.
Those statistics reveal how much of this tragedy is not being addressed. Only a third of those who succeed in committing suicide has even been in contact with specialist mental health services in the year before their death, though it is estimated that 80-90% will be suffering from a mental health condition, diagnosed or not.
Rob works with people to remind them to see that they have had so many problems yet got through them and are still here to help them believe they can get through the dark moments. There are steps to work through, but you have to remember than bracing messages of positivity are not always helpful. Exercise and nutrition are vitally important in the prevention and to aid recovery but not appropriate in extremis when more serious therapy is needed.
Another book Rob speaks highly of is “It takes what it takes” co-authored by the sports coach, Trevor Moawad. He believes that everyone’s mindset is naturally defeatist and works to replace it with a neutral mindset. Rather than try to be positive the whole time, he advises to ask yourself, “what can I do at this moment that can help.” He works through steps of “can we try this, no, ok: can we try this? No, ok”, till eventually there is a “yes, that is worth a try.” This approach can be calming, a cool way to assess and analyze, and focus on the things you can control.
Rob says that if you are worried about someone possibly being at the point of suicide, saying I am here if you need me, can sometimes not be enough. It is crucial that you let them know that there are people there who can help. Those people may be friends or family, or sometimes it can be someone through their doctor, as it can be easier to speak to someone you don’t know. Talking is a crucial part of suicide prevention.
Sometimes, someone outside a medical background can be the right person to talk to. Years before I met Rob, I was first made aware of these terrifying figures when someone who worked for me showed me the campaign to raise money for James’ Place. After an incredible fundraising campaign, James’ Place opened the first center outside a hospital or clinic, specifically offering suicidal men counseling and therapy. James’ Place was set up in memory of James Wentworth-Stanley, who tragically committed suicide as a student at only 21.
It is needed to break down the stigma, to make people aware both of what they might be suffering from and so that they can better understand and help others. And talking is the vital first step of helping people through their darkest moments.
You may be interested in two other entrepreneurs – Alyson Friedensohn talks of how suicides have impacted the entrepreneur community in the US and I can never talk of mental health and the moving story of Keiron Sparrowhawk’s near brush with suicide. There is also this article on resilience.