HeForShe: Adam Shaw | The Mental Health Pioneer

Meet Adam Shaw

The Mental Health Pioneer

Adam Shaw is The Mental Health Pioneer who, over the past five years, has arguably done more for mental health recovery, advocacy and philanthropy than any other.

You’ve likely been impacted by the incredible work he’s done in the field of mental health: from making mental health education mandatory in UK schools reaching 10.9 million children, to forming the Shawmind charity and creating the world’s first (and biggest) mental health publisher – Welbeck-Trigger. Adam has touched so many mental health recovery stories in the US and UK and continues his work daily through his commitment to promoting action and genuine impact. He has invested more than £10 million of his own money into revolutionising mental health recovery and support on a global scale. 

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

My role today is to represent the everyday person when it comes to mental health. I am a mental health pioneer, philanthropist, businessman, charity founder, husband and father.

I’m not someone who just wants to talk or only be an advocate for mental health, I really want to make an impact with my time, resources and wealth. My drive is to see tangible, positive results. To make that impact, I have built a group of companies including my main passion – my charity, Shawmind – of which I am Chairman, working to create long-lasting impact on children and young people’s mental health. I’m proud to say that my charity’s efforts are responsible for making mental health education compulsory in UK schools.

I founded the world’s first mental-health-specific publishing house, Trigger Publishing (now partnered with Welbeck Balance) and we’ve published more than 500 books by authors from all walks of life including professional athletes and celebrities.

I co-wrote two books of my own with therapist Dr Callaghan to help those with OCD, panic attacks and depression.

We’ve created TriggerHug.org in a mission to elevate bibliotherapy as one of the most powerful, affordable and convenient mental health recovery solutions that could impact millions of people.

And we’ve opened up an author-funded publishing arm of Trigger, called Cherish Editions, to give a bigger platform to mental health sufferers with a story to tell. 

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Growing up I only ever wanted to be a pilot; I passed all my tests with British Airways in 2017 but unfortunately I had to be grounded because of my OCD, which was devastating at the time, but it turned out to be one of the best things to happen to me, as I worked on turning that into a positive and it led me to build my first business. I knew that if I wasn’t going to be a pilot I couldn’t work for someone else, I knew I had to be my own person, I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I never envisaged being a successful business man or going into mental health at the start of my career.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Yes, millions of challenges: business challenges of course, but the most obvious challenge was my mental health. That impacted me greatly and a lot of decisions I made. Sometimes I felt it held me back, but in hindsight, I feel that mental health was the most positive thing that has happened to me because it allowed me to harness my OCD, which made me exceptional in business, but of course it also had its dark side. I used my OCD, unknowingly, to my advantage throughout my business life.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I have a few to be honest, of course my family and kids, but if we’re talking in terms of my achievements in mental health, one would be the Shawmind charity, which led efforts to make mental health education compulsory in all British schools, and which a lot of people thought would be impossible. When we got the issue debated in Parliament we knew it was a huge achievement – but it was just the starting point – making it mandatory on the syllabus is massive. 

Another is having the ability to publish people’s powerful stories and lived experiences, the stories of everyday people who deserve to be published, stories that can help millions and millions. The reality of giving people a platform to publish their mental health experiences and knowing the impact that book has on people further down the line… One of the most powerful things you can do to help with mental health recovery is understanding other people’s stories and lived experiences, understanding you are not alone.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

One thing that has been a major factor is that despite having OCD, when it came to business, I never thought about the odds that were stacked against me. If I’d have known all those challenges when I first started that company I might not have started. I just went in believing I could do it. To have that belief is important, but having resilience is imperative – it’s like rocket fuel. You can reach the moon if you have resilience. As soon as you run out of resilience you fall right back down to earth. When you recover from mental health you also realise how resilient you are. Taking the first few steps without seeing the top of the staircase – if you have the courage to take those first few steps it will pay off.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I don’t consider myself a direct mentor, I share my advice and I find that I make the biggest impact by telling my own story and listening to other people’s journeys. Identifying with an average sufferer really helped me. There’s nothing more wonderful than when you’ve made it to a certain place in life to be able to pass that wisdom on and see other people rise up: in business and in mental health. Both are just as important to me.

What can businesses/government/allies do to help diversity and inclusion?

There’s so much that can be done. So much comes from the top, especially when we’re talking about mental health. CEOs and people in positions of power can do great things. When talking about creating a mental health culture, diversity and inclusion, the impact and direction have to come from the top, then it filters down like water. Water is hard to push up hill, it can trickle down easily though. Within my own organisations and within mental health, one of my biggest regrets in my previous company is that I never really talked about my mental health. I now know that if I was able to talk about what was going on I would have got far more support. If people with influence can promote it within organisations, employees will feel more comfortable.

Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?

It’s essential. It’s not just one idea that makes something work. My business only became successful because of teamwork, I surrounded myself with people who were experts at what they did. Women, of course, have a pivotal role to play in the workplace and at all levels. Every idea, every culture needs to be considered and embraced. Surrounding yourself by ‘yes people’ can tend to happen in an organisation where there is no balance, there is no mix of backgrounds, cultures, genders and races. People would be very naïve to think that equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace are unimportant.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

As a young person, especially in my late teens and early 20s, I was always trying to prove myself, there’s a lot of competition out there. My best piece of advice for young people is learning to not care what people think of you (not in an arrogant way). I always took criticism very personally but I came to realise that you’re always going to get criticism. The moment you start trying to please everyone is the moment you’re on a path to failure. When I finally learned not to care what people thought about me, was probably the best advice I’d now give my younger self. I learned this in my 30s and 40s. People say ‘I don’t care what people think’ but you have to really feel it. As long as I’m polite and respectful of people, I don’t have to care what people think. It was embracing it, not just repeating that mantra in front of the mirror. When I started to do that, my business life and everything else became more successful.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

My focus and passion is mental health. I’ve put my money where my mouth is. There is a business element around that which will need to be nurtured to make them self-sustainable to have the right people within the team, to make an immediate and long-term impact. I don’t want to be a celebrity speaker just talking about mental health. I don’t want to be the guy who gets the gold, I want to be the guy who invents the pick axe who mines the gold. Everything that we’ve created over the past five years (charity work, bibliotherapy, traditional and self-publishing houses) is to have that impact. I want to share my story, go public, to inspire other entrepreneurs to create amazing mental health organisations, make a difference and change lives. I want to magnify and enhance what I’ve done with my team so far so it can reach more people. I don’t expect to change the world but I know if I take the steps over the next five years, I hope I can see that I’ve made an impact and improved a generation moving forward in a far more healthy and resilient way.

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