‘We need to feel it, not just be told about it’

We need to change the narrative to make mental health a fundamental part of culture, write’s Wavemaker’s Andrew Spurrier-Dawes

Andrew Spurrier-Dawes

EMEA Head of Precision, Wavemaker Wavemaker


My therapist once asked me ‘What is the difference between a feeling and an emotion?’

I didn’t know then and still don’t really know. I mean, I understand the idea of what she was saying, but it’s not real to me because I don’t feel the difference.

It’s like that scene from Good Will Hunting, where Robin Williams as Sean meets Matt Damon’s Will next to a lake in their second session together after Will had taken apart a painting he saw in Sean’s office. Robin Williams monologues on the difference between knowledge and experience, acknowledging that Will has incredible knowledge, “but I bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel.”

We are constantly surrounded by the idea of mental health, being told we need to be aware of it and to support each other but it needs to be more real; we need to feel it, not just be told it. However mental health is too often used as a platform for marketing, either as an ad for a brand or personal branding for an individual, and not often enough a fundamental part of our culture.

Culture is built not just what we say (take note Will) but it gets reinforced through our shared beliefs and values. I need to know that you believe and act in the same way as me. If we talk about the way we should act but then allow other behaviours, then it is all just chat, it is not real.

A major part of this belief structure and the way we act is our shared language. Normalising what we talk about and how we talk about mental health is critical – especially for men, who are more used to talking about things than people, relationships and feelings, leaving us undereducated and under-resourced when it comes to emotional intelligence.

For various reasons (which I am more than happy to talk to you about, just get in contact) I have had to see a therapist and a psychologist to help with some diagnoses and some processes I have. In these sessions I learnt quickly that my vocabulary for understanding emotions is extremely limited.

I understand core, primary emotions, like anger, frustration and happiness, but outside of that my emotional spectrum was missing. I don’t truly feel the understanding of the different types of happiness, anger, sadness and frustration. This means I am unable to identify the nuances in what I am feeling, unable to identify what causes them or how to amplify or soothe them. It means being empathetic is far harder and my emotional world view becomes a greyscale, pixellated, lurch from one situation to the next, rather than a beautiful, deep, gorgeous, textured connection it could be. All of this through not having the vocabulary to unlock this understanding.

However, I am working on it. Learning to understand the nuances and feel in the moment. Learning to recognise the different emotions in others so I be present for them and I can understand it in me as well. This will make me a better husband, father, son, friend and colleague. I wish I had known this earlier, but I didn’t, so the next best thing is to live it now.

Crucially, I normalise this by talking about it openly and acting on it. I feel a sense of responsibility - particularly as a man, for other men - to be the one that acts on including mental health into our culture and not just talking about it. We work in a high-pressure industry, which is changing at a rapid pace and full of strong characters, which means understanding and being to express understanding of emotions is absolutely necessary for navigating our careers safely and bringing others with us. 

For me, this lives in how I deal in my one to ones with colleagues, how I understand how people react to my choices, the context of client situations, to how other people act in line with their work ambitions, how people are covering up their vulnerabilities, my expectations of people, what I prioritise in work and the type of company I work for. There is a huge difference in management and leadership and sometimes our industry is overly focussed on building managers who get the work out rather than training leaders to build people who make the best work.

As an ally and someone lucky enough to have been through traumatic situations that have forced me to seek help, I am the person normalising the language of mental health for those that can’t. If anybody wants to chat about anything, please just get in contact and come join me at the entrance to the Sistine Chapel.

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Guest Author

Andrew Spurrier-Dawes

EMEA Head of Precision, Wavemaker Wavemaker


Andrew joined Wavemaker in August 2021 as Head of Precision for EMEA to build the digital excellence in the region. As part of Wavemaker’s Consulting Hub and based in London, he covers all aspects of digital for the teams, with a focus on data, measurement, tech, ecom, biddable, content and our internal products, with a view from the strategy to the execution. Previously, he was at MediaCom as the global digital lead for Mars and GSK, as well as the UK lead for the UK MCM business flagship accounts such as Sky and Tesco.

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Mental Health