A mental health mutiny

“It was a massive twist of fate really, but that is what my life is all about.”

We’ve all heard the stats: 1 in 4 of us will suffer from mental ill health at some point in our lives, and yet in workplaces up and down the UK it is still highly taboo to talk about mental illness, let alone take time off to deal with it. Male suicide rates are still climbing.

The team at We are Hummingbird are doing something about it.

****

For 17 years, Ian Hurst was your typical suit. Every day he would travel into London to look after the global insurance for high profile clients like Porsche, Bentley and Rolls Royce. Making good money, he could offset the stressful work environment and five hour commute, with evenings and weekends spent playing golf and eating out, before returning home to his young family and pretending that everything was as it looked. Totally fine.

Then one day a couple of years ago he was on a flight back home and out of nowhere, he broke down.

“I just started crying. People were like woah, and bless, the woman I was with didn’t have a clue. She was like ‘chin up mate.’” 

Ian quickly realised that he was suffering from severe loneliness. Though often surrounded by colleagues, friends and family he felt unable to connect with anyone. “The biggest problem is how tiring that is because you’re putting on a show 7 days a week, and sometimes by the time I’d get to work at 9 in the morning I’d be emotionally and physically drained.”

Acknowledging that something had to change, he took time out and went on mental health first aid course. Almost every work place has a designated first aider for physical injuries, but the idea of a mental health first aider in the work place is still unusual, radical even.

For Ian, it was a lightbulb moment.

He trained up and started splitting his time between his regular job and mental health initiatives. Then, finally in October 2018 he decided to take redundancy and become a full-time mental health instructor.

Around this time Ian met James Scroggs and explained his plan. James is a Trustee of CALM, and founder of HOOPMUSIC and MC Overalls; he introduced Ian to his now business partners at We Are Hummingbird, but also suggested he read a book.

“On James’s recommendation I immediately read Be More Pirate, and wow. It was so clear that my old work place was the Navy, the establishment. In every chapter there was a different thing I could apply to my daily life.”

We are Hummingbird began four years ago following the death of Matthew Cogley from the band FailSafe. Two of Matthew’s friends initially set up a website simply support anyone those suffering from depression and direct them to the NHS. But, as the guys were all involved in the music industry too, the platform evolved organically into a community that blends music with mental health awareness.

Why music? Given that to inability to express emotion or connect with other people are such huge facets of mental ill health, We Are Hummingbird tackles both through by encouraging people to create playlists and explain what music means to them, at the best, and the worst of times. The playlists are pushed out on Spotify and social media and to date they have some well known musicians such as Paramore and James Blake contributing.

“We knew that there were people in the music industry that don’t relate to mainstream mental health campaigns so we’re trying to rip out the rule book. If someone wants to call themselves a fruit loop because that’s how they communicate, go for it. It’s not ‘correct’ but if communicating stops you from committing suicide then that’s what matters. It always comes back to good trouble, playing with what’s out there, asking ‘what about this?’”

When Ian came on board as a full-time director he developed the We Are Hummingbird health side of the business, with his core offer of mental health first aid training. With this came a blank slate and a chance to do everything differently.

“The biggest thing I thought about was values. I was sat in a soft play area with my kids and I thought this is my chance to write my pirate’s code, that in 10 years time if we’re at a crunch point when someone’s flashing money but and it doesn’t feel ethically right, we’ll know what to do.”

So Ian started to established his code with articles that would be the cornerstone of what We Are Hummingbird is about.

The first was the importance of community, and how they treat the WAH community. The brand grows with the community, and everyone has an equal say. They might not be on the payroll but the people out there creating and promoting playlists and taking the courses are treated as the same as the Directors.

Another is Fluidity. The requirement to make stuff up, make mistakes and make them fast. Take a gamble and see if pays off.

Alongside the music, the site sells merchandise, but since they’re still a small platform, Ian started to use pirate principles to think using collaboration to achieve scale.

One way they do this is for every t-shirt the sell, they will give £1 to CALM, and £1 to Trust music venues. This enables them to capitalise on the huge reach that these other organisations have, use their logos, access their network and increase brand awareness. Traditional business models would tell you that it’s madness to give away such a big chunk of your profit but Ian is adamant the returns are worth it.

“I don’t think I’d have thought about joining up crews like this, if it wasn’t for the book. I was previously in a really cutthroat environment where everyone was in it for themselves. But now, I look at things differently. When it comes to mental health I’d rather have four experts overlapping their work so that no one slips through the gaps, rather than people claiming their patch or being territorial about the work.”

We Are Hummingbird Health are still at the beginning of the story, but are committed to the new way of working.

If you want to know more or collaborate, get in touch with Ian on wearehummingbirdhealth@outlook.com