From ‘Man Up’ to ‘It’s OK not to be OK’ – Richard Lucas, Founder GoVox Wellbeing
It recently dawned on me that when I share with people the ‘founding story’ of GoVox Wellbeing it almost feels like an apology, or some kind of cathartic experience. I have been taking some time to reflect on this, and thought it worth sharing my journey in a little bit more detail.
As GoVox Wellbeing expands globally (crazy, I know), I also find myself comparing where we are in the UK with other countries and cultures – are we progressive and can we help others accelerate their thinking; are we playing catch up; can we learn quickly? Ultimately the answer is both, and that has become the fresh driving force behind the GoVox Wellbeing movement (yet another weird statement that sounds very grand, but really does hit the spot with where we are going.)
So, with all this in mind, here are the reflections of a 40 (something) chap from the UK, and the ‘Stages of Wellbeing’ I have experienced. I will give it some broad timelines to help with the context.
The 70s & 80s – The ‘brush it under the carpet’ phase
I remember when I was younger, people didn’t really talk about feelings. Society was quite traditional and looking back, it wasn’t the norm for any emotion-led conversations. Some people were seen as a bit of a caricature of ‘crazy’, but that was about it. In the same way as when you fell off your bike, it was a magic sponge, if you were lucky, and you got on with it – no fuss.
Looking back now, I do wonder how much of the ‘swept under the carpet’ activities have come back to bite us all in later years. It’s probably fair to say that not talking about something was pretty ineffective in making it go away!
The late 80s / Early 90s – ‘Loads ‘a money’
I smile at the ‘Loadsamoney’ reference, for those of you old enough to remember the Harry Enfield character. Although it was an extreme (and quite funny) role play of the brash 80s money obsessed man, it does highlight the shift to gratification being materialistic and money-focused. The drive for the flash suit and fast car, success being driven by the size of the ‘wad’ of cash. But what does that say about how we looked at, and after each other – was this the start of the dangers that we see now where people are by far their biggest judge and critic, based on what they have, and how the world sees them (see the ‘gram’ generation coming up in later years).
Mental Health & Wellbeing was still of course a ‘thing’, but the solution was to ‘have more’ or be seen to be more successful. Probably a sharp rise in some dangerous additional coping mechanisms (drugs, alcohol) did quite the opposite to helping anyone.
So now we weren’t just ignoring the cracks, we were actively papering over them with the artificial view of ‘success’; I think I can see where the Mental Health bubble is growing!
The late 90s / 2000s – Technology changed the game!
I had to think I do remember a time before the internet. I have no idea how we functioned, turned on the heating, went shopping, quite basically how did we even exist?! But we did, somehow (weird).
So, what did technology (the internet) do to the world of Wellbeing? Well, if we look back we have gone through a period of time where everything was ‘swept under the carpet’, we have then artificially tried to create happiness via material things (Loadsamoney), so do we think things shifted? In the early years (40 (something) chap speaking), it clearly added to the problems. Yes, we got more ‘connected’ with the world. Social media (how I knew what people had for dinner till Facebook and Instagram god knows, I mean why I need to even know is another question!) but we also put ourselves out to the world, started comparing ourselves to others – looks, money, status, even happiness (why are that young family’s kids so happy, having such fun!)
The cycle was getting quite dangerous – we now had a way to judge ourselves and others from the safety of our own home. We had/have an equal voice in the world of communication and our opinion is now valid to everyone (so we think).
But we aren’t helping each other. I don’t think I ever knew what a 6-pack was before. Now I was desperate to get one, just to be as good as these other guys in the world. How strange (BTW I have never managed to achieve a 6 pack, I no longer feel inferior for it, but if anyone knows a magic pill I will happily give it a go.)
So, there we were, the era of the ‘quick fix’. Still no real Wellbeing support, Mental Health was still for ‘nutters’ and chaps, ‘man up’ and work on that 6-pack please.
After the Millennium – 2000 – 2010, ‘bottle of water and an apple’
What a time this was, we had collectively survived the end of the world (11.59pm on News Year’s Eve 1999 was a scary time), turns out the computer did know +1 on 1999 was 2000 (phew… imagine if it hadn’t – I’d still be going to Blockbusters for my Friday date night film!)
But something else did change. There was a splattering of people becoming ‘aware’ of things around them, this ranges from the planet, their food (yes this is when I first met a vegan) and bizarrely, each other. Of course there had always been people with a real conscious around all of these things – the ‘sweep it under the carpet’ generation will have called them weirdos, ‘Loads ‘a money’ probably quaffed champers over the ‘hippies’ but I jest. Of course, people have always cared – that is one thing that us humans do brilliantly. But weirdly people were starting to show that they cared, in bigger numbers.
I talk a lot about the first Wellbeing initiative at work: everyone got a bottle of water and an apple at the start of the day. We felt good about that, it was a key moment and a tick in the box. But really that’s all it was: a box ticking exercise.
But that’s okay, we were starting to lift the lid and ‘care’.
2010 – 2020 – Pre-Pandemic, the statistical stage of Mental Health and Wellbeing
OK, this is where our story (GoVox Wellbeing starts). 2017 we knew we had a problem – the statistics told us so. ‘Suicide is the biggest killer for men between the ages of 25 and 45, more than cancer and other terrible illnesses’ – really?! Wow – looks like we have a problem, I do wonder why:
- Sweep it under the carpet
- Define success with ‘Loads ‘a money’
- Man up!
- Judge me online (that damn 6-pack!)
- But it’s okay, I had an apple and a bottle of water this morning.
We (people) have that built in desire and will to care, so how do we fix it? That is what I am delighted to see more and more of today (and in the future). GoVox Wellbeing is just one example of that, utilising technology to give people the freedom to speak up; create a new culture that really does ask ‘RUOK?’; really does give you the space to know ‘it’s OK not to be OK’.
And so, we push forward, along with an increasing range of solutions and focus. Hopefully learning from some of the lessons of the past.
2021 – Post Pandemic, #bekind, RUOK?, It’s OK not to be OK
There is no escaping that the world has changed. I have dedicated this blog to my view of the ‘Wellbeing stages’ over the last 40 years in the UK. We see increasingly that other countries are ahead of the curve, I start my day with conversations in Australia and finish them in the US, ticking off many countries in-between and I learn something every time – every call and every conversation. Things we can do better, things we need to help others ‘catch up’ with, and I must be honest it’s very scary and quite inspiring at the same time.
We have just lived through the most challenging time for our generation; our kids and parents have all been impacted. The ‘Mental Health pandemic’ is no longer just round the corner, it is here and it is real.
But I smile at the end of this. Maybe my ‘journey’ (that I have tried to articulate above) has led us to this day, this time, and this need. I hope so, and at GoVox Wellbeing we will continue to strive to ensure everyone is supported.
And that’s it, I’m off for an apple and to work on that six-pack (pointless I know). I hope you enjoyed a little insight into my view of the last 40 years (ish) of Wellbeing. Of course, it’s one view – I’d love to hear yours.