How One Employee is Advocating for Mental Wellbeing in his Community
The subject of mental health is an important one, but one that many people struggle to talk about. Mental health – which includes our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing – affects how we think, feel, and act. In other words, our home lives, work lives, and everyplace in between are impacted by the state of our mental wellbeing – something that Stuart Rawlins, McCormick’s Head of Safety, Health & Environment in the Asia Pacific Zone (APZ), knows all too well.
Upon graduation from college, Stuart joined the police force in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. He immediately liked the job and was soon recognized by his senior officers as having keen investigative instincts. At 25, he became one of the youngest officers ever promoted to the rank of Detective and was assigned to the Crime Investigation Bureau (CIB). There, he joined a major incident room for three years working on the Daniel Morcombe case, one of Australia’s largest and notorious murder investigations. As part of that small principle investigative team, the daily stress and pressure of the job began to escalate. For three years, he held the demanding role, functioning at the highest level, working tirelessly for long hours, on some of the country’s worst cases. Like many in law enforcement, he was under a lot of pressure, and often faced danger and traumatic experiences – responding to car accidents, homicides, child abuse, domestic violence, and other distressing events.
During the investigation, which continued for eight years, Stuart noticed his hands were shaking a lot, he frequently broke down in tears, and he got sick every morning before leaving for work. But there were victims to help, cases to solve, and criminals to bring to justice, so he kept on going. Over the next few years, as he led and solved more brutal crimes, his symptoms worsened. He began observing differences in his ability to deal with stress. He was working too much and sleeping too little. He began upsetting easily and crying frequently. But he loved the police force and the work he was doing, so again, he kept on going. In 2006, he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant, and when Daniel Morcombe’s killer was brought to justice, he received an Assistant Commissioner’s Award.
That same year, soon after Stuart arrived at the scene of a double homicide, he suffered a complete breakdown. “I began experiencing an impending feeling of doom – about something, nothing, and everything at the same time,” Stuart recalls. Fortunately, he was able to drive himself to an ambulance station and was immediately taken to the hospital.
Doctors formally diagnosed Stuart with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression – a result of being exposed to numerous traumatic incidents over several years in the Police Service. Thinking he could fix the problem on his own, he decided to leave law enforcement. He hoped no one would ever find out about his mental health challenges and think less of him. He took a sales job at a friend’s business. But after just a few months, the symptoms returned worse than ever and he was unable to function, let alone work. He lost 14 kilos (30 pounds) without trying, was physically ill, and began to withdraw from friends and family. Before long, he was self-isolating and over-drinking. He could barely leave his house. But asking for professional help was still too difficult for him. What would his colleagues think? After 11 months of self-isolating at home and hitting rock bottom, he was finally able to ask for help.
“I was relieved to discover that there was help and support available for people like me,” Stuart said. After working several months with psychiatrists, psychologists, and mental health support groups, he started to get his life back on track. Over time, he learned to practice positive psychology and put strategies into place – like ongoing counselling, medication, exercise, and ocean therapy. As he learned how to accept and live with his mental illness, Stuart also learned how prevalent PTSD is in society – and how so many people suffer silently like he did.
In 2011, Stuart was physically and mentally well enough to start working again and joined Unitywater, as a Safety Health Environment Quality (SHEQ) Systems & Compliance Manager. He had made a full recovery but remained distressed by people’s hesitation to seek help for their mental illness. He realized he was in a unique position to help end the stigma of mental health disorders, especially among law enforcement. So, in 2016, he built his own website, called Healthy Mind Healthy Future, to begin sharing his story. Before long, he was connecting with people in Australia and beyond, who were struggling with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. He began educating them on how to seek help, encouraging them not to wait, and convincing them that it’s okay not to be okay. Through his own experiences, triumphs, and challenges, he started helping individuals and families recognize symptoms that need immediate attention, and how to find the appropriate help.
In 2017, when Stuart joined Gourmet Garden, (later purchased by McCormick), he was pleased to learn how aware and open the company is in its approach to mental health.
As the chair of the Australian Purpose-led Performance (PLP) Committee, who coordinates PLP activities for the APZ, he considers mental wellness to be an integral part of people’s overall physical health and wellbeing. He is currently working with HR to partner with Smiling Mind, an organization that provides accessible, life-long tools to support healthy minds. He hopes to create a corporate program for employees – a flexible but structured one designed to benefit the whole company. He recently shared his personal story at McCormick’s Palmwoods site as part of Mental Health Awareness Month. He conducted short sessions of controlled breathing – a way of calming our bodies down and getting ahead of anxious thoughts. And he led physio-(physical therapist) guided stretching sessions with exercises designed to help prepare our bodies to perform our work tasks. Stuart willingly shares his story and insights on mental wellbeing with McCormick employees via an internal communication tool.
“There has been a big shift in people’s attitude towards PTSD, depression, anxiety, and mental health in general. And companies like McCormick are helping abolish the stigma associated with it,” Stuart says. He was delighted with the company’s recent hire of Leah Evert, Global Wellbeing Lead, who will be implementing programs and strategies that benefit employee’s health, safety, and wellbeing. Stuart plans on serving as a resource for Leah, as she offers employees support through health seminars, educational materials, and speaking engagements. In regards to mental health, Leah wants to promote the importance of talking openly about it at all levels. “I believe we can de-stigmatize mental health by focusing training on resilience, advocacy, and counseling,” Leah said. She is currently conducting an audit to identify best practices in each country where McCormick employees live. Another priority for Leah is to emphasize the value of self-care – the act of deliberately taking time for yourself to refresh your mind, body, and soul. She wants employees to know that whether it’s practicing yoga, taking a nap, getting a massage, or going for a walk, self-care is critical to our overall well-being and mental health.
Leah is part of the Human Resources – Total Rewards team, who along with the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), provide employees options and tools for maintaining good mental health. A “Coping through Disruption” toolkit is available for prioritizing one’s mental health, focusing on self-care, and thriving through self-development. Wellbeing resources, like a virtual playbook, recordings of livestream events, and power hours offer help to those experiencing distress who may hide their feelings because of the stigma associated with mental health.
Recently, during Mental Health Awareness month, McCormick sponsored The Man on The Bridge, and the Stranger who Saved Him – a compelling story of one man’s mental health journey and the importance of support. Employees were also invited to attend Anxiety and Your Community, a presentation by Teressa Ruspi, co-founder of the Lou Ruspi, Jr. Foundation, a non-profit organization who champions suicide prevention and mental health awareness in schools and communities. Teressa shared the story of her own brother’s suicide and how to identify and cope with anxiety, depression, and stress.
Today Stuart is an advocate for mental health in his community and in the workplace – educating, coaching, and speaking on PTSD, depression, anxiety, and other topics that some people still find difficult to discuss. He has written more than 20 articles on the subject and is well-known in Australia for partnering with private companies, non-profits, and government agencies to raise awareness. “Looking back today, I am proud of the journey that has brought me here. I work in a different industry in a job that I love, traveling internationally and helping people and the environment every day. But most importantly, I have made it a priority to look after my mental health and I am passionate about teaching others to do the same. I want to give people struggling to find a purpose in life, the hope that help and healing is possible.”
To learn more about Stuart Rawlins, visit Healthy Mind Healthy Future.
To learn more about support through traumatic events, visit Empower Life Solutions.
To learn more about mental illnesses like PTSD, depression, and anxiety, visit Global Mental Health.