In a new series, Alan Burke explores mental health in the property sector and how to improve it, based on his own experience and struggles during 30 years in the industry.
I love the property industry. In many respects it has made me who I am – it has certainly allowed me to make a good living, to meet great people and have a fantastic standard of life.
Some years ago, the highs offered by the industry started to diminish and the lows became deeper. Not permanent, but deeper, much deeper.
What was going on and why?
I still do not know all the answers to these questions but I do now understand a lot more about myself and a great deal more about the issues I have been facing – or more accurately refusing to face. One thing is very clear to me – I failed to take care of my mental health and consequently in an emotional and professional sense I “hit the buffers” and was diagnosed with depression.
Still in late 2017 “depression” is a word that conjures up a range of responses and images – all of them pretty negative. Someone who suffers from depression “can’t hack it”, is “weak”, or is a “risk to the business”. Not only is this thinking outdated, it is plain wrong. Even a cursory glance at the national and international statistics prove what a widespread and worryingly common affliction depression is. I say affliction because although I suffer from it I am still not sure whether I am ill, have a disease, a genetic problem, or “simply” have developed a way of thinking that needs to be corrected and re-balanced.
In the context of my experience what makes a perfectly rationale, reasonable, successful, happy and balanced (well almost!) property professional find themselves unable to function, to make or receive a phone call, to write a coherent paragraph, to lose his ability to problem solve and become an anxiety-wracked shadow of his real self?
Thankfully, and simply because things became too difficult for me (and my family) to manage, I finally fronted up to my condition – I stepped back from the heat of the workplace and invested the time I needed to understand, accept, and most importantly of all, actively tackle the problem.
It hasn’t been easy, but neither, surprisingly, has it been all negative. I have been both amazed and totally humbled by the response of my closest friends, colleagues, clients, partners and associates throughout the industry to my revelation. Bringing my issues into the open (disclosure is the technical term, I think) and facing up to them with the help and support of those I admire, respect and enjoy working with, has been my salvation.
When I started out in the profession we talked of buildings suffering from “sick building syndrome”, lacking natural light or good ventilation and having obsolete mechanical and electrical systems.
We are now much more enlightened. We talk about designing buildings that actively improve our wellbeing, promote our health and happiness – and rightly so. If we put this much emphasis into our modern-day buildings and spaces surely we can all learn to invest a little more time and consideration to ourselves and our expensively trained minds.
I hope that through a series of articles I can play some small part, offer some small insight or incentive for others in the industry who may be facing, or potentially facing, mental health issues, to take action on their own behalf. It simply is not an option to try and bury this stuff and hope it goes away. I know from personal experience, this will never work.
My aim is to help and encourage others to maintain a balanced mental health and thus sustain a long and rewarding career in a fantastic industry.
“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”
― Stephen Fry
Alan Burke is a chartered surveyor and former development director who has specialised in the identification and delivery of major projects and urban regeneration initiatives over a 30-year period. He’s worked for PwC, the Homes & Communities Agency, Langtree, Bruntwood, and Ask Real Estate. He now runs his own consulting business which offers property, regeneration, development and funding advice to clients in both the public and private sectors, and is also a mental health ambassador for Lionheart, the charity for RICS professionals.