Mental Health Awareness Week 2023 – Jack Opens Up

With Mental Health Awareness Week 2023 once again putting a spotlight on mental health, as well as this year’s theme of ‘anxiety’, we thought it would be insightful to talk to one of our own.

Jack Garofalo is our Head of Content and is usually the person asking the questions and writing all of our articles. This time he’s swapped the questions for the answers. He opens up about his own struggles with his mental health, what he does to combat it, and how Nordens have helped him in his journey.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your mental health journey, and how it has affected your life?

I’m Jack and I take care of the marketing, communications, and content here at Nordens. I’ve always had a passion for writing in all forms, whether that be about music, sport, film, economics, lifestyle, business, culture, and lots of other things over the years. I came to Nordens over 2 years ago now and have firmly found my home since, helping them to build brand awareness and more growth for the firm.

My mental health journey long predated my tenure at Nordens, and I’ve suffered from both depression and anxiety for most of my life. This has influenced everything I do, whether that be work, raising my two children, or just going about life in general. Both depression and anxiety are silent killers so to speak, and there have been many times in my life where I’ve become so overwhelmed by my thoughts that I’ve contemplated throwing in the towel and ending it all. One of the darkest periods was during the formative years of my first born, where I suffered from large bouts of PND (post-natal depression). I’ve since tried to raise awareness about PND in males, which affects roughly 10% of all fathers in the UK and is largely under-reported and researched. Raising awareness for mental health I believe is so important and it has helped me come to terms with my struggles through writing about it and sharing my experiences.

How did you first become aware of your mental health struggles, and what prompted you to seek help?

Since I was a child, I’ve always struggled to emotionally regulate myself and often would let anger, frustration, and self-loathing take over. The more I left this unattended and unspoken about during my adult years, the more it affected me and the relationships with the people closest to me. I began seeking help around 5 years ago and have seen many therapists over the years. Finding a therapist is particularly difficult, and you often have to try a few before you land on one who properly connects.

I’ve read extensively about mental health, as well as tried numerous things including medication, yet I still suffer from dark days regularly. When I started getting help, I believed I would find a cure, or a quick fix, for my problems. Accepting that this isn’t the case, has been one of the hardest lessons to learn and I’m continuing to learn to this day. Without the help of professionals, my partner and my workplace, I don’t know if I’d still be here. Therefore, the lesson is to speak up and seek help, I can’t stress that enough and I wish I did it sooner.

How have you learned to cope with your mental health challenges, and what strategies have you found to be most effective?

As stated, struggles with my mental health are a daily challenge. I recognise that this varies for other people, so what they seek in terms of support may be different. For me, it’s important to try new things which help you. Regular exercise has been vital, whether that be going to the gym, playing football, or just taking the dog for a walk. As well as this, reading in general, talking to my partner, and meditation are strategies that are very effective for me. By doing these things, I’ve taught myself to become aware of my triggers and automatic negative thoughts and this has enabled me to recognise why I’m feeling or behaving a particular way.

Socialising is also crucial for me, as I tend to isolate myself when I’m feeling low and don’t really want to leave the house to see my mates or experience new things. Sometimes I need a bit of a push to do this, but I never regret it. Putting yourself in a healthy and positive environment naturally influences your state of mind, so I try and encourage myself to do this as much as I can. 

How has your workplace accommodated or supported you in managing your mental health?

As I’ve just mentioned, putting yourself in a healthy environment is crucial. This is no more apparent than in your workplace. I feel so lucky and privileged to be a part of such a progressive and caring organisation like Nordens. The incorporation of the company-wide ‘ME’ days have been so beneficial, allowing me to take a day off work when I’m feeling really overwhelmed. Additionally, the emphasis on mental health education through lunch and learn sessions are so important to all members of the company. We also have a weekly family call which allows us to socialise and update each other on any developments, and this really solidifies the bond between all staff. All this definitely contributes to an open and honest atmosphere which encourages all of us to speak up.

Around a year ago, me and my family took the decision to move up to Nottingham which meant I’d be working remotely for Nordens. This was a conversation I was very anxious to have, however it was handled with care, compassion, and complete respect. The company have been so understanding of my personal situation, as well as all other members of staff’s circumstances, and this has been so reassuring and comforting. In turn, what this has produced is a happy and highly productive workforce who have contributed significantly to the reputation and growth of the firm. It also enables a lot of us to feel comfortable opening up to the company about our issues or concerns, instead of bottling them up and letting them rot. I truly believe every workplace should take a leaf out of Nordens’ book and put employee wellbeing front and centre of their priorities. 

What advice would you give to others who may be struggling with similar mental health issues, and how can society better support those living with mental illness?

I think in my lifetime, mental health will always have a stigma attached to it. Especially so from a male perspective, where the traditional view to ‘suck it up and get on with it’ is societally ingrained in all men. As well as this, suicide in England and Wales is three times more common among men than women, with this gap increasing over time.

Although the tide is beginning to shift with stigma around mental health, still 6319 deaths in Great Britain in 2021 were down to suicide, an increase compared to previous years. So much more work needs to be done, not just in the form of national campaigns like Mental Health Awareness Week. This comes down to community and grassroot organisations, especially in more deprived areas which conventionally have a higher risk of suicide. Of course, this is based on how much funding organisations can secure as many of them are non-for-profits. The government should really focus their attention more on mental health and its effects, as well as basic healthcare overall. With the current state of the economy however, I can’t see this happening on a major scale anytime soon.

My personal advice to anyone experiencing or struggling with their mental health is to seek help and find the thing that works for you. Sharing experiences and speaking up sounds so cliché, and I must’ve heard it over a thousand times, but it honestly is the most rewarding thing you can do. Your mindset controls your experience, and it’s amazing how much the body is influenced by it. Get the help you need, in whatever form that may be, and continue succeeding and surviving.