The owner of Aberdeenshire bar, The Square in Kintore, is putting people’s wellbeing at the forefront of his reopening plans as he introduces mental health champions in his venue.
And Steve MacDonald is encouraging more venues across the north-east to get involved in the campaign to make pubs, bars and restaurants safe spaces for customers to have conversations about mental health.
Eager to get more people talking, Steve says it was after having discussions with his staff and sharing his story on the business’s Facebook page which spurred him on to launch the campaign alongside reopening his venue.
The It’s OK Not To Be OK campaign is focused on sparking conversation and encouraging customers to check in with friends and family who may not be in their company while out.
By encouraging conversation, Steve and his team hope that people will become more aware of those individuals who may be experiencing mental health issues and not be venturing out as much as they used to.
It’s OK Not To Be OK
Reopening to the public on April 26, the interview process has been quite different for new staff joining the company, with Steve not just recruiting new starts, but mental health champions, too, who will be fully trained in providing advice and being an ear for those who need one.
He said: “The main purpose of launching this, being a pub, and place which is a big part of the community where people catch up, is we wanted people to be able to come in and have those conversations when they need.
Mental Illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Neither is talking about it! #ItsTimeToTalkThis video was done for us by Urbane Media for SITP. Its a reminder for us all ❤️.#WorldMentalHealthDay
Posted by The Square on Thursday, October 10, 2019
“We’re getting staff trained up to be mental health champions and for them to be here within the premises for if and when people want to come in and speak. We’re going to close the restaurant one night once a month for meet ups and for people who want to come and speak to be able to do so.
“After everything everyone has been through and having dealt with my own stuff, this has all really stemmed from that. I spoke with the staff and some of them had said they had dealt with mental health and so we decided to launch this campaign.
“We did a recruitment campaign and have a heap of new staff and they were all told about the mental health side of things and how it will be a key thing for us to keep a lookout for.
“We are also going to rebrand the venue as It’s OK Not To Be OK for a short while to really show how committed to this we are. We’ve looked at online courses and we plan on contacting the mental health charities operating in the north-east, more specifically the Shire, so we can maybe partner up with them. This campaign is really important.”
Sharing is caring
Sharing his own experience and battles with mental health on the business’s Facebook page for his customers and the public to see, Steve says while he was apprehensive about sharing his story, he needed to do so to encourage others to speak out when they need help the most.
As a result, numerous individuals have messaged him personally and the page explaining that they, too, have faced similar battles, and have reiterated how important it is to talk about problems.
Steve said: “I wasn’t sure about sharing my story but we’ve had a couple of messages off the back of it and a few of my friends have messaged to say ‘thank you’ and that it has helped them, too. Someone else opening up about speaking about it has really helped these guys.
“We’ll have certain members of staff on as mental health champions. There’s a fine line with being a pub and having alcohol in the mix, so we are going to be very mindful of that. It is okay not to be okay. We are going to be really pushing this and we’ll have this messaging throughout the venue, on the menus, and there will be subtle marketing which customers will see.
“The staff will be encouraged to interact with our clientele more and pose questions like ‘Are all of your pals here today? Is anybody missing?’. We’re hoping that these questions will then encourage more conversation and if someone is missing maybe the others will reach out. Maybe you are feeling okay but someone in your group might not be, so it is to help encourage people to speak more and reach out.
Someone else opening up about speaking about it has really helped these guys. ”
“I’d really like other venues to jump on this, too, and get more people taking it up. I’m really trying to focus on the mental health side of things rather than jumping and shouting about reopening. Our customers know we’re reopening but we want them to know we are here for them in more ways than one.”
Square in the Park
This is not the first time Steve has put mental health at the forefront of his community activity. He also organised a one-day charity music festival, Square at the Park, at Castle Fraser in aid of north-east cancer charity CLAN.
He added: “We held the concert two years ago over at Castle Fraser. That was my way of shouting about mental health and its impacts. We made a video for that and it opened the whole event before the Coldplay tribute band kicked off.
Having those people you can confine in can really benefit your mental health ❤️ #ItsOkToNotBeOk
“The video took three or four months to make. We put the video out on the massive screen and you couldn’t hear a pin drop when it was on. I had walked from backstage to where the crowd was and it was so surreal seeing 500 plus people not make a sound.
“There were kids, teenagers, adults and grandparents all in the field watching this video. It wasn’t about making money or anything like that, mental health and raising awareness was what that day was all about.
“We’ve always been advocates for mental health but this is the first time we’ve done anything with The Square as a venue. Everyone is affected by mental health and it is those you sometimes don’t expect that put on a brave face who are really struggling. All it takes is for one thing to go pop and everything comes crumbling down.”
“I have suffered with my mental health. That’s a sentence I never thought I’d be able to say never mind share on social media. Those of you that know me will probably find what you’re about to read hard and some unbelievable. I put on a very brave face, in fact, a fake face for a lot of years! I wasn’t Steve by any means.
“Little over five years ago my journey started with my mental health. To start with I thought I was fine and at the time I thought I could take on the world. I was 25 and owning a pub, life, I thought, was pretty good. Reality soon kicked in. Sleepless nights and excessive drinking was only just the start of it.
“The last year has been the worst. From the sheer stress of coronavirus on my business, to my relationship that ended before I knew it resulting in losing the person I felt could truly help me.
“Getting up in the morning was hard. I just didn’t want to get up, I didn’t have the energy. And once I did I ran out the door to work. I didn’t want my family to see I was weak. I was out to provide for them. I’m a man we don’t show weakness. We show strength, right? How wrong I was.
“I’m not ashamed to admit it now but I had daily thoughts of ending my life. I had actually attempted on a few occasions. Looking back I was stupid to even have thought about it. I should have gone for help, I should have turned to a close friend, family or my fiancée at the time. But I didn’t. I kept that brave face and just got on with it.
“I finally turned to my mother before it was too late. I can honestly say speaking out saved my life. If I hadn’t have spoken when I did, I believe my son would be growing up without his daddy and that truly breaks my heart.
“Looking back I was in a very dark place. A place I felt I couldn’t get out of. But trust me there is help out there. There are some amazing people around you and they care deeply about you.
“I’m now well on my way to a better place within myself. I talk regularly with friends and family but most of all I have my son who is my constant light and I will never let him down.
“I’m not shouting about what I’ve been through for attention nor pity. I’m sharing my story in the hope that it will encourage someone else to reach out and get talking because it saved my life.