Stephen Whitton on The Red Sofa
Interviewer:Today on the Red Sofa, we welcome Stephen Whitton, founder of [M]enable Stephen. Welcome to The Red Sofa. Tell us a little bit about yourself and why [M]enable came about?
Stephen: Yes, I’m Steve Whitton. I’ve had a long career in the automotive industry for over 30 years, and
[M]enable came about because I had issues with my mental health, which all came to fruition at the beginning of 2020. So just perfect timing with the Pandemic. And with that came the collapse of my marriage, my business and, like I said, the Pandemic. And as we went through that, I was trying to pick myself back up and put information out on social media, and I was getting a lot of people saying, this resonates; you’ve touched a nerve here.
It dawned on me that there are an awful lot of people out there, men in particular, but not just men who are/or were suffering with their mental health and had been keeping it to themselves, keeping it quiet.
So together with a few friends, we founded the organisation called [M]enable, which isn’t ‘Men Able’; it’s ‘enabled’ with an ‘M’ to make it as inclusive as possible. And, yeah, everything’s gone from there.
Interviewer:So you’re a very driven, focused individual who can easily get along with everyone. When we hear the term mental health, what does this look like to you?
Stephen: Well, in the past, mental health was certainly something that wasn’t really talked about. It wasn’t a mainstream subject. It started to get that way four or five years ago, and then the Pandemic, really brought it to the surface.
So for me, and I talk about this a lot now, I actually celebrate the mental health issues that I had because it was that that made me driven, it made me determined, it made me very conscientious and hardworking. The trade-off was that all of that was because I was feeding the desire to have all the material things, have all the stuff that I wanted, the house abroad, and the money in the bank. And, of course, all that did was just put more and more pressure on me.
So back then, I never thought that was a mental health issue. But on reflection, it meant I was revving far too hard.
Interviewer: I’ve read that [M]enable is a movement. Can you elaborate on this and what it sets out to do?
Stephen:Yeah, I mean, what I said from the beginning with [M]enable was what I wanted it to be. Ironically, it’s the first business I’ve been involved in or created where I didn’t start with a spreadsheet and a business plan because, for me, it’s purpose-driven. It’s about people, and it’s about getting people to open up and talk. And when I did that, I got a lot of support from people in similar positions. And so what we said was that for the automotive industry in particular, where we kicked off, we wanted to use that platform to raise awareness of the impact of culture and working practice.
So it’s not to be critical of anyone, but it is to say all the stuff that I experienced and what other people experience is not helped by the pressure on people and how the industry operates. So what we did was our way of making an impact was to create a movement and get people on board, get them in volunteering, wanting to take part, and so that’s what it became.
Interviewer: Can you give us some insights / stats into Mental Health?
Stephen: Well, in the automotive industry alone, there are 860,000 employees across the sector, and the World Health Organisation reports that at any one time, one in four of us will raise the fact that we have mental health issues going on.
I probably should make the distinction between mental health and mental illness. They’re not the same thing. We all have mental health just as we all have physical health, and it’s only when our mental health becomes a problem, we can’t cope or there’s stuff we’re dealing with, that’s when, as I say, the World Health Organisation reckons one in four of us will report that.
I would argue that it’s higher than that or should be higher than that. I think a lot goes unreported or undisclosed, but even on that basis, one in four means that in the automotive industry alone, there are potentially 216,000 people at any one time that are suffering with their mental health.
Because if you throw in anxiety, confidence issues, low self-esteem, stress, and depression. There’s an awful lot for people to be stressed about all the stuff that’s happening in the world in terms of the cost of living, energy prices, wars and conflicts and everything else.
Now, the more scary statistic is that in the UK alone, the suicide rate is 17 in 100,000. So based on that, 860,000 in the industry could potentially mean 146 people in the automotive sector alone could consider taking their own life during the year. That, for me, is scary.
Interviewer: They are worrying statistics. What’s the best advice you can give us in, for example, recognising mental health, how to respond and start helping to manage it and what can we do as business owners to facilitate this within the workplace?
Stephen: The first thing I would say is recognise that everyone has mental health just as we all have physical health.
I hear sometimes people say things like, oh, he’s got a problem, he’s got mental health. Well, we’ve all got mental health. So the analogy I use is like a car rev counter, like a traditional diesel or petrol car that is not an electric one, but a traditional car rev counter. If that engine runs efficiently and effectively, it should be around one and a half, 2000 revs.
When those revs go up, you increase the pressure, put more gas into the engine, and the revs go right up into the red zone. Now, you wouldn’t run your engine like that because you don’t know if it will let you down one day.
So we use that analogy to say there’s probably an awful lot of people that, like I was, that are revving in the sort of five, six, seven area. So they’re not at a therapy stage, they’re not at the crisis everything’s falling apart stage, they are at the stressed, anxious, worried, concerned kind of stage.
To answer your question, keep an eye out on everyone, stand shoulder to shoulder, talk to each other, and support each other.
If I was working with you, I would come into the coffee area and ask, how’re you revving this morning, rather than how’re you? And open up a genuine conversation between two people who are interested in each other.
Interviewer: That’s some great advice, Stephen, so thank you. And thank you for your time today. If you would like to get more information on how Steven and [M]enable can support you and your organisation, please visit https://menable.org/
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