My life as a chief executive with mental health issues

Nick Page, Chief Executive at Solihull Council, shares his mental health journey with us. He talks about the steps he takes to successfully manage his mental health issues at home and work and also how this has helped him to introduce new ways to support staff in the council.

Nick Page, Chief Executive, Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council

(Time: 00:05:01 – 00:05:12)

It was about six or seven years ago now where I just hit a wall. It just came out of the blue where I just felt like I couldn’t go on, couldn’t survive doing what I was doing. And I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand what that was like. And I’ve had cognitive behavioural therapy. I’ve seen some specialists in mental health. And I also see somebody that does a bit of life tutoring for me as well.

It wasn’t work-generated but because, and I’ve said this before, we spend so much time in work it came out in work if you like. It was all part of that melee of noise and distraction really. And I had been leading a pretty touch area in Children’s Services. And for me the way I describe it is the glass that I had would fill up regularly and through the love of my family, my wife and my kids and my friends and my work colleagues and my interests like sport, I was able to take the lid off the glass a bit and reduce the flow. And for some reason in this September when it happened to me, I just couldn’t stop it overflowing.

So now I take medication every day and I just manage it. And try and be really self-aware of my impact. And I would hope because of my experience and my mental health journey, and my wellbeing journey I am more sensitive to my size 10s and the impact I make on my colleagues. And I remember the day I stood on the stage in Solihull and said ‘I suffer from mental health’. ‘I’ve been to that period of time, that edge if you like and all of that’. And I didn’t pre-plan it. I didn’t rehearse it I just felt this needs saying. Because you know I was talking to our managers and they were saying ‘look life is tough. This is really, really hard’. And it was about I think me having the confidence in myself and the people I have the privilege to work with and lead to say ‘you know I understand and this is a bit of my story’.

So we are bringing forward in our organisation through an employee journey support for mental health. Support through the Thrive Programme. Many of us are trained as mental health first aiders now and it is bringing it to the front. You know there isn’t a cure necessarily but there is a conversation to be had. There are, I think particular demographic issues that are now coming forward for the people that I work with. And I think that adds pressure on top of, now let’s be frank, working in public service is demanding. It should be demanding because we are impacting, influencing, changing, supporting people lives. It is not easy work. But I think that is an added focus I think where I see now a lot of my colleagues saying ‘Nick, hands up I need a bit of time here to look after my mum, look after my dad’ and I get that constantly. So, I think it is changing the way we approach work and being far more flexible and be listening. You know being in that listening mode and trying to say ‘well on an individual case, as well as on a workforce basis, how can we support you?’

And actually, I will say I see that as well within our accountability as Chief Execs in local government with elected members. My elected members, and elected members across the West Midlands with who I see a lot of through our combined authority and our (unclear 00:03:48) and other things, they’re brilliant. You know they are absolutely brilliant. Don’t always agree with all of our elected members but actually to a person they are really supportive of us as their officers, of their senior officers. And there is an empathy there. It is a challenge but there is an empathy.

So that political dimension and how we talk to our bosses and our accountability is equally important. Just find somebody you can talk to and it can be somebody who you love and loves you or it can be somebody in work. You know when I first hit that wall, I remember speaking to somebody in work and he is now running a council somewhere else in the country. And he was lovely with me because I was still trying to work out how I speak to my wife and children about how I feel. So just find that person and have that confidence to talk to them. But the key thing is talk. Don’t let it reach a point where you’re glass or whichever analogy you want to use, overflows and you lose control because that’s just so destructive and it takes a long time to come back from that. And it is that flexibility isn’t it with yourself. Nurture yourself. Look after yourself. There is only one of us.