In a guest blog for Car Dealer, Steve Whitton, the director of training business SSW Automotive, writes candidly about how mental health issues took him to some extremely dark places this summer, how he fought his way clear of them, and how he now wants to work with the automotive sector to provide support for other men
As darkness and despair descended on an otherwise normally bright and cheerful persona, it presented a time to reflect, re-evaluate and reassess. Then the world went into a global pandemic with lockdown, and with no work this exacerbated my issues.
Everyone knows me as the long-serving, upbeat and positive automotive trainer, speaker, consultant and coach.
Many have seen me host awards ceremonies and large conferences and been in awe of the confidence and ease with which I hold an audience – but that was the ‘me’ I portrayed to the outside world.
For many years, I’d been carrying around deep-rooted unease, born out of childhood traumas and unresolved thought processes, so it was only a matter of time before the pot not only boiled over but fell to the floor and flooded the kitchen.
I revealed my innermost pains and secrets to those closest to me without realising the devastating effect it would have on them – how naïve as a communications specialist to miss that most important point. And so, the slippery slope into darkness began.
Throughout the summer then, I was placed in positions of having to make numerous decisions, not least of which was the future of my business and the type of work I continued.
I was overwhelmed. Everywhere I looked were problems and challenges – I couldn’t think straight. I even contemplated the possibility of the planet not needing me on it any more. Whoa! Screech of brakes in my head. That’s not me to think in that way.
Then, with the guidance of some amazing people within my inner circle, it finally arrived – my purpose, my direction, my reason for being.
As that famous aphorism puts it: ‘There are two important days in your life: the day you’re born and the day you realise why.’
The darkness lifted. Suddenly, everything was crystal clear, and the light I’d sought for many years was now blinding.
So, after pondering and thinking on long walks and time in the garden, an idea was sown, and as it grew and took shape it became evident this was it!
My ‘service’ to humanity, to my sector, to my friends and family, is to share my experience and – through the gift of empathy, understanding and coaching – help other men in the automotive sector who may have had, be having, or could have challenges to their mental health.
As I explored and contemplated the sector, I realised that the issues of mental well-being are rife and that we’re not as well equipped in the industry as we could be.
How many leaders across the sector are fully equipped with the emotional intelligence and empathy to fully engage teams of people?
How well do our managers cope with extracting as much ‘performance’ out of our businesses while pastorally caring for their team members?
And what is the culture like in our businesses to deal with issues when they arise?
Mental health intervention is clearly moving up the agenda in businesses and there are interventions popping up that cater for managers to make them aware of what to look out for and how to deal with crises as they arise.
But what about long before the crisis strikes? How do we as a sector promote discussion and openness about the challenges and stressors of modern life – especially in a fast-paced environment and especially when the world’s normal is starting to look so different?
It then dawned on me – we need to start something: a movement, a collective, a collaboration of like-minded individuals that share the beliefs that our amazing sector can be even more awesome with an enlightened set of views around mental health and all that goes with it, such as relationships, money, aspirations, emotions, sexuality, addictive behaviours… the list goes on.
I want us as a sector to enable men to feel empowered to speak openly about the issues that affect them and, through supportive cultures, thrive and grow and at the same time benefit business.
So, MENable was born with a clear purpose – to get conversations started in the industry to drive cultures.
Through engagement with the most senior leaders, a cascading of attitudes and beliefs to managers and the creation of work-based champions to support peers, we will help the most progressive businesses to work into their growth strategies the openness needed to encourage discussions that aim to prevent crises before they happen. We also will provide support and help to those who are already in crisis.
Since its inception just a few weeks ago in early August, MENable has gained four ambassadors – two in the UK, one in Canada and one in the US.
We have coaches and consultants ready to work with individuals or teams who’d like to refresh or revise their thoughts or approach.
It’ll be a gradual process, but we’re massively inspired by the support and interest shown so far. For more information about the movement, please visit menable.org.
For me, it’s still a journey, but through darkness I’ve found light and my energy is lifted way beyond levels previously experienced.
I’m looking forward now to what the future holds, so as I go on this journey, if I or we can help other men in this wonderful sector to talk openly, we’ll be on our way to a brighter outlook for everyone.