It’s International Stress Awareness week this week (5th-9th November 2018) and we have been fortunate enough to talk to some really inspiring people in and around mental health.
Continuing our interview series we spoke with Jon Salmon, mental health advocate, campaigner and co-founder of entertainment agency Byte Entertainment. Jon’s last few years have been somewhat of a whirlwind in to the arena of mental health advocacy. When deciding to share his personal journey, he didn’t know it was going to be with quite so many people, live on TV and around some rather interesting characters! Read on to find out more….
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hello, my name is Jon Salmon, I live in London with my wife and two lovely children. I have had a varied career, starting out in the late 90s working for the internet company AOL building some of the first online shopping sites.
I then went on to work for a company called Tiscali, and early on I realised the power of live streaming, bringing music festivals such as Reading and Wireless to the masses in 2006 and helping to devise the world’s first outdoor interactive video installation ‘The Telectroscope’; a month-long live webcast between New York and London.
After a period of freelance consultancy, I created an award-winning production studio producing 100s of videos for companies including Sainsbury’s, Huffington Post, The Guardian and Jobsite, which went on to win a Grand Prix at International Content Marketing Awards.
But most importantly, I am now a mental health advocate and campaigner.
You’ve had an interesting few years in the public eye, tell us how this came about.
So, everything I have told you above is true and even when I read it back, 20 years condensed into a few paragraphs all seems pretty good. However, there are a few parts of my life that I have omitted and kept a secret from so many people.
When I was 17, sadly my Dad took his own life after being ill for a number of months with depression. As a family, we didn’t get any professional help and me and my two brothers tried to be strong for my Mum.
As a coping strategy, not talking about my Dad’s death seemed to work really well. That was until I started my first full-time job in my early 20s and didn’t realise that I was obviously getting very stressed at work.
Then one morning it all came to a head when I woke up in my flat in a complete panic and I was so scared. I called my brother, realising that something wasn’t right. It wasn’t long before I was sectioned for my safety and in the same mental health unit as my Dad.
Luckily, in the end, I was able to get Cognitive Behavioural Therapy through my employers’ health insurance and returned to work a year later at the start 2000 not daring to tell a soul what had happened to me.
However, that was all to change in May 2016 when a friend took her life due to suffering from Post Natal Depression after having her second child. I was in such shock and realised it was probably the stigma of mental illness that had stopped her from getting help.
I decided that I wanted to run the London Marathon to raise awareness and money for a mental health charity that supported parents.
After a quick Google, I came across Heads Together founded by Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry with a coalition of charities to change the conversation on mental health in the UK.
Best Beginnings charity jumped out at me with there mission to give every child in the UK the best start in life through an innovative Baby Buddy app and informative videos for pregnant women, new mothers and fathers.
I was so pleased when I had my place confirmed for the marathon. A few months later I had a phone call asking if I would be happy to share my personal experience of mental illness with a group of like-minded people and without much hesitation, I said yes!
What I didn’t realise was that I would end up sharing my story alongside Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry, Rio Ferdinand and the worlds media. By the time I had to pick up my kids from a nursery that day, I had been live on ITV News, interviewed for Channel Five and in the London Evening Standard.
How have you found the reactions to telling your personal story publicly?
I guess initially it was one of total surprise from friends, colleagues and even family. A few people were concerned if I was now ok and overall it has been a really positive experience. I know that by talking about my own mental health it has helped others.
Looking back at your personal journey with your own mental health, can you name what may have helped you that wasn’t readily available and therefore what is now vital for supporting young people?
Very sadly in the UK last year there were 5,821 suicides in 2017 and it is the biggest killer in men under the age of 45.
I feel really passionately that families affected by suicide should be given counselling. At the time of my Dad’s death we were given no professional support at all and now I know this really would have helped us.
When I was at school we didn’t have any education on mental health and the benefits of talking about your worries or concerns with friends or a professional.
The government recently announced proposals for mental health education to be a mandatory part of the curriculum by autumn 2020 but it is really shocking that isn’t already the case!
We also shouldn’t forget the teachers and head teachers can find the demands of working in a school to be very stressful. They too need support from the government to fund appropriate training including mental health first aid for all staff.
Tell us about your work with mental health charities
Earlier this year I took part in Ultra 100k run, well it was more of a slow jog to raise money for Best Beginnings.
I am really proud to be a Time To Change Champion which is a movement of people changing how we all think and act regarding mental health.
Most recently I was very excited to be asked to part of the #mentalhealthcollective with some amazing mental health speakers and organised by Jonny Benjamin MBE.
I am very excited about Jonny’s new charity Beyond Shame Beyond Stigma to support the work of small organisations and individuals doing amazing mental health-related work in the community.
What does stress look like to you? and from a personal point of view when you have experienced stress, how has this manifested?
I am now a lot better at identifying and managing things when I get stressed. Usually, when I am stressed I sleeping less, more anxious, over thinking things and I am not sharing my worries with others.
In the workplace, it can even harder to show that you are stressed as a lot of people perceive this as a weakness.
For me I have found talking, running and listening to music really helps me to de-stress.
In the few times when it has really got too much, I head straight to bed in the knowledge that the world will still be there in the morning and I will always feel better for it.
We usually think of stress as a negative, but positive stress helps us achieve, motivate, energise and can even boost memory. Tell us about a positive experience you have had with stress.
Some of the best experiences in life have been very stressful, seeing my wife in labour with our first child, launching my business or having to do a talk in front of 100 college students.
Stress is completely normal and the right amount can push me to achieve my goals. However, it is when I put myself under too much mental or emotional pressure, stress can become a problem.
We need to create a culture where we are more open about talking about our emotions to friends, family and colleagues.
What do you think needs to change in workplace culture in order to protect mental health and prevent mental ill-health?
According to the Health and Safety Executive, 526,000 people in the UK are suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety resulting in 12.5 million working days lost during 2016/17.
That is why it is so important that companies are investing in educating their staff through mental health first aid training providing the knowledge and confidence in dealing with mental health issues within the workplace.
Tell us about your work in the House of Lords in regards to policy-making and awareness, how might this translate in years to come?
As part of the Mental Wealth Festival organised by City Lit, I was asked to speak in a cross-party debate at the House of Lords alongside MPs Helen Hayes, Johnny Mercer, and Norman Lamb for World Suicide Prevention Day.
My drive for mental health reform comes from having two young children and knowing that they will no doubt have some bumps in life with there mental health.
By the time my children are teenagers, I really hope we will finally have ‘parity of esteem’ for mental health resulting in equal access to the most effective support and treatment through the NHS and our educational system.
This years ‘theme’ for International Stress Awareness Week is ‘Does hi-tech cause high-stress?’ There is no doubt technology impacts on all our lives, on the one hand, the stressful effects of the 24/7 lifestyle that technology has brought, and on the other, the positive contribution that technology can make, helping us manage our lives better. What is your opinion?
I love technology and my loft is full of tech that didn’t quite catch on. The fact that we can do so much on our phones, talking to friends on WhatsApp, scrolling through endless Facebook feeds and watching Instagram stories means we are now checking our mobile phones on average every 12 minutes.
I personally spend way too much time on my phone and know that this isn’t good for me. Apple and Google have recently announced ‘digital wellbeing’ tools to reduce screen time allowing you to set daily limits but feel a long way needs to go before we get this under control.
Who inspires you and motivates you?
Throughout my life, a number of people have inspired me from the slightly obvious business role model Richard Branson, through to Professor Green who has spoken so openly about his Dad’s suicide and Jonny Benjamin MBE who gave me the confidence to speak out about my own mental health.
But my main motivation is my two children and want them to grow up in a society that is more supportive of everyone’s wellbeing and mental health.
Finally, what’s on the horizon for you!
When I suffered a psychotic episode, I was given all manner of pills but wasn’t referred to any groups or talking therapies.
I am in the process of launching Listen Out! a new platform bringing together music, tech and wellbeing listings using the latest digital innovations to inspire and contribute to the positive conversation around mental health.
Huge thank you to the wonderful and inspiring Jon Salmon for taking the time out to talk to us!
Follow Jon on