Harry: Hello and welcome to The 12 Minutes of Workplace Health Podcast, I’m Harry Bliss, CEO and co-founder of Champion Health and today we’re joined by a friend of mine, an ex-colleague and a partner – and one of the most inspirational people in the field of mental health and suicide prevention – Steve Phillip. Steve is the founder of The Jordan Legacy and following a tragic event that he will share with us today, he’s going to share with you the incredble work he’s been doing in the suicide prevention space. Now there will be topics of suicide and suicide prevention discussed today so please bear that in mind when listening to today’s show. Welcome to the podcast, Steve.
Steve: Hi Harry, good to see you again.
Harry: Likewise. So, we go back a fair way, and it’s fair to say that you’re one of the most inspirational figures in the wellbeing, suicide prevention and mental health space. Would you be okay to share your story with our listeners?
Steve: Yeah sure, and I know you and I met just a few weeks after a pretty cataclysmic event in my life which was on December 4th 2019 when my son Jordan, 34 at the time, took his own life. It was about February time that you and I got together, and you were just starting Champion Health at that stage, and we met and had a coffee, and everything was very raw in those days. You talked about the work you were doing and I had no idea what I would really be doing with my life. But as we dealt with all the trauma of everything that happened after that day in December. One of the things I decided to do was publish an article on a platform I had used a lot and already had quite a decent following – and that was LinkedIn. I shared the story of everything we were going through, what had happened on the day and the struggles we were going through as a family – the lack of help and support. I posted that article with little expectation in terms of what that might achieve in terms of response. But the response was overwhelming, and it was a global response from people that had been bereaved by suicide to psychologists to people that knew me and were sending their condolences. And interestingly messages from people themselves who were struggling, either had attempted suicide or were considering it as an option and needed help.
I quickly realised that as a non mental health professional, by sharing my story, I was in a position where people were coming to me for help and advice. I was still a grieving father going through a storm of a time, to be honest. I kind of felt this responsibility that I needed to be able to say something.
So, with the help of people in the family that were qualified from a mental health perspective, Jordan’s mum as a senior mental health nurse and Charlotte, Jordan’s partner who was just about to qualify as a clinical psychologist. So we put a plan together to signpost people to the help that was out there. And it was as basic as that.
Very quickly as I recognised that people were resonating with my story and engaging with it, I started to share more about what was going on. I really started to immerse myself in the world of mental health and suicide prevention to learn why it might have happened. I often said to people at the time that at that time, on the scale of 1-10, my knowledge of mental health was a solid 2 and that’s probably generous.
So, I wanted to learn more and I’m in the process of writing a book. The working title is “I could have done more” – which is a challenging title and a lot of people have questioned that. But what it’s really saying is that I knew so little about mental health then, as many people do, and that perhaps if I had been better educated, maybe there would be things that I would have done differently.
Would the outcome have been different? That’s questionable. So really that led me on a journey to start sharing my experience more and share what I was learning from the professionals and the many people that I’ve started to talk to online globally, about the issues relating to mental health. A lot of that in the workplace of course. And really just how straightforward it could be to have a conversation with somebody and listen to them, and then be able to support them in some way.
Anybody could do that, you didn’t have to be a professional. That led to me creating The Jordan Legacy as a CIC, about to become a full-blown charity. And that’s really where the journey started.
Harry: It’s really remarkable. And thank you so much for the work you do and the energy you have. I think it’s impossible to be able to measure the impact that people like you are having. So first of all a huge thank you for sharing your story and for everything that you’re doing.
There are some things you mentioned around doing when we were sitting in Starling cafe. As you mentioned it was very raw, and I have had my own experience of bereavement through suicide. It’s really tricky sometimes, looking back at the things and the warning signs. I remember you saying you were a successful business person beforehand, what would you say to that Steve or people in their positions, that want to talk to friends or colleagues when they think that person is struggling with their mental health.
Steve: Firstly, we all lead busy lives and sometimes even when we know there are problems, we’re cautious of getting too involved. One for intruding, maybe on that person’s privacy or fear of receiving a push back from them. But also we just get on with life sometimes and we don’t stop and listen enough. I think about Jordan, he was diagnosed clinically with anxiety and depression in 2015 – some four years prior to his suicide.
His mother clearly had concerns about his health and would regularly share that with me. My way of dealing with that would be, okay I’ll give him a call. And I’d speak to Jordan: “How are you doing Jord?” And generally we’d have a conversation that generally didn’t fill me with any concerns. I’d go back to his mother and say he seems fine.
But what I wasn’t doing because I was not educated, is that I would never really stop and ask him “how are you really doing?” Okay you’ve told me you’re doing fine, you’re doing this, you’re not sounding overly great or enthusiastic – how are you really doing?
And that was a question I learnt really early on. And we often ask people “How are you?” and we take the first answer we get back. That’s not good enough anymore. We’ve got go in and ask that question again, and we’ve got to change the intonation of that question when we ask it the second time.
What we now know is that if you ask that question a second time in a different way, you’re more likely to get someone to say “actually I’m not having the greatest of days or weeks”. “Okay, tell me, explain a little bit so I can understand.”
And my advice to people is that we need to make time to have those conversations. I’m speaking to parents regularly who are approaching me saying they’re concerned about my son who is away at university. And so, we’re having conversations about asking these questions. Before we came on air I had a text message from a good friend that’s really concerned about another friend. So we just had a conversation about how to have that conversation – things that I would never have known about before.
Things I’m doing within The Jordan Legacy, is to say, if mental health issues affect one in four of us in this country. If suicide is the biggest killer of men under 34. There is no excuse for any of us not to be educated in mental health. I’d say it’s more important than physical first aid because it’s more likely to come across someone with a mental health problem than someone that’s bashed their head in the street.
You need to understand just in case, because none of us expect to get that call or that knock on the door. And I’ve spokent to too many people who get that knock on the door that would never have dreamt it would happen to them.
Harry: I think that’s a really clear message coming through Steve. So thank you for sharing that. Asking twice is huge. My personal experience at university, I really struggled with my mental health. It took my tutor to ask twice about my mental wellbeing. And it led me to bottling things up to opening up and it really changed my life.
In terms of the work that The Jordan Legacy is doing, can you share some more about the workplace, community, policy – I know we only have a couple of minutes left so that is a challenge! And how can people get involved more?
Steve: I’ve taken on this beast of a project but I was fortunate to partner up with some really good people early in the days and start to understand more about what the Zero Suicide Community is doing globally. We can’t rely simply on the government and the NHS and the systems and processes there that you need in communities and workplaces. You need a ground up strategy. That means everyone is taking responsibility for the mental health and wellbeing of those around them.
And that’s about culture. Changing the culture of a community or workplace. And everyone recognising that they have a role to play. So we can have mental health first aiders, that’s great, that’s a role and a responsibility. But that’s a huge responsibility to place on one person.
Why should HR be the only department or person that deals with mental health? Why can’t we all be trained and all have the knowledge and experience to look across another desk or have a conversation with someone and know what to say and what to ask.
So, The Jordan Legacy works on four areas. Community, so from sport clubs to football clubs to local small businesses to community groups. We work with workplaces large and small. About to start work with a large cargo and airfreight company. I’m going to Bradford soon to work with a small engineering firm. We’re working with the design and construction industry to look at how suicide can be designed out of buildings, car parks and bridges.
We’re looking at the digital world and how tech can be used more effectively. Taking existing technologies, maybe those in other industries, that could be applied to suicide prevention.
So we’re very early stages still but we’ve taken on this huge role. We’re going to be working closely with schools and colleges this year working very closely with Jonny Benjamin. We’ve just come off a meeting, and we are going to be announcing a major national campaign called The Baton of Hope.
We’ve already got some pretty high profile people wanting to engage with us in the discussion. It will be a nationwide event. And if I can give you any teaser, think of the passing of the Olympic torch in 2012. Pretty massive project.
Steve: Everybody can get involved in this. So we will be communicating much more with this in the coming weeks.
Harry: If anybody wants to get in touch with Steve, look up Steve Phillip on LinkedIn and look to get involved. There aren’t too many projects that are more worthwhile and will have such an effect on society in the future. Thank you as a friend, former colleague and partner of Champion Health for all that you do.
Steve: Thank you, Harry.