A former soldier is hoping to break down barriers and normalise talking about mental health with his new podcast, ‘Mentally Healthy Leaders’.
Tom Fox served for 13 years in the British Army and then worked in financial services before he had a mental breakdown and was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
PTSD becomes complex when you are regularly exposed to several distressing events over a long period of time.
On his new podcast, Tom talks to business leaders and senior executives about their own battles with mental health.
He hopes that by hearing people in positions of power discuss their own wellbeing, listeners will be encouraged to be open about their own struggles. Speaking with Verity Geere and Richard Hatch on BFBS Radio he said:
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of. If we talk about mental health ... that probably will help us to steer off becoming seriously ill.”
LISTEN: Tom speaks to Verity Geere and Richard Hatch on BFBS Radio
The former soldier served with the Royal Green Jackets for 13 years and then, after leaving the regular service, joined the reserves. After this, Tom worked for the US Department of Defense in Iraq and for the US Navy providing security onboard US Sealift Command vessels off the coast of Africa and for the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office in the Middle East protecting British diplomats.
Eventually, Tom made the transition from military life to civvy street by forging himself a career in finance. Something he claims was made easier because of his military career. He said:
“I think most guys, at least the infantry, are not too backward at coming forward and it’s a case of going out there and trying to seize the opportunities.”
He accelerated quickly within the industry and eventually became a wealth manager at Lloyds and then Barclays. However, even during this rapid rise to success within the business world, he knew he was suffering from mental health problems.
Over time during 2008 and 2009, Tom started to lose his memory and feel pain in his head.
At one point, he thought he was suffering from a heart attack, but what he had experienced was a massive panic attack. He was not aware that these were common physical symptoms of mental illness. He said:
“I didn’t even know what mental illness was, let alone that you could feel it physically too.”
When Tom started on his road to recovery, after seeking help with his own mental health, he decided he wanted to start a business to help others. He set up Thoughtify, a company offering mental health training for businesses. He said:
“[I wanted to] teach other people about mental health so that they could avoid pitfalls because a lot of the signs are very obvious if you know what you’re looking for but if you don’t, you know, that’s it and that’s what happens with a lot of people.”
The podcast is another way by which Thoughtify is trying to help. The podcast features honest conversations with people in senior leadership positions. The hope is that hearing people open up about their own struggles will encourage others to do the same. He said:
“By doing the podcast and having people in senior positions talk about their own mental health and own challenges and what they’ve been through it inspires people hopefully to, lower down the chain, to step up and talk about it and realise you don’t have to hide. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Before discussing his own mental health with a psychiatrist, Tom thought people who were struggling and had to take time off work were "being either lazy or having problems or drinking too much.”
Looking back now Tom knows there was more going on than that and those people were probably very ill and struggling.
The mental health advocate is trying to fight the stereotype that men should ignore their feelings because expressing emotions is considered a weakness. He said:
“... we don’t want to be seen to be vulnerable or weak or have a chink in our armour and that’s not the point. Having a chat to someone and opening up you’d probably be very surprised how supportive the people around you would be.”
Tom discussed this point with Major Andrew Fox of the Parachute Regiment. They spoke about the fear and shame some people feel when talking about their own mental health. He said:
“When [Major Fox] came and spoke about his mental health, he was expecting to get a lot of flack and in fact the troops … came to his support instantaneously and were massively supportive towards him. Exactly the opposite of what he thought would happen.”
Listen to the podcast here: Mentally Healthy Leaders