Martin Pratt, the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health’s CEO, describes his job as one of the best in the world.
His role in the organisation also holds personal significance; as a carer for an individual who has had mental illness he found joining the organisation a liberating and important experience.
After a poor start academically Martin was talked into applying to go to university in his early 20s where he worked his way through to a Masters in German studies at University College, London – inspired by his half-German heritage.
Following the birth of his son Martin worked at various companies as an internal researcher and consultant and later joined the Institution of Mechanical Engineers where he was head of its project management department.
However, many of Martin’s colleagues were entirely unaware that he was experiencing, first hand, the weight of stigma after he became a carer for an individual with a serious mental illness.
Until this point, he said, he had little understanding of the condition but was thrown into a world of multiple occasions of sectioning for months at a time which brought with it visits to an old-fashioned, cramped, mixed gender mental health ward.
“During this time I was trying to make sense of how things could be kept together in a relative pretext of normality. I distinctly remember the self-imposed isolation I wrapped around myself at the time and the secrets and pretence to my employers, friends and family that all was well.”
When Martin was approached to apply for a position as ACAMH’s Member Services Manager in 2009 he knew it was exactly the role, and the organisation, for him.
“It was incredibly liberating to join ACAMH. Not only could I put my experiences to good use but understanding more about mental health and working in an organisation whose primary task was to improve the lives and wellbeing of children was an absolutely amazing experience.”
After several years working closely with mental health professionals Martin eventually felt able to speak about his personal experiences when he became ACAMH’s CEO in 2015.
“Even being surrounded by professionals who do this on a day-to-day basis, even that by itself wasn’t enough to break the stigma of talking about it.
“My advice for anyone who finds themselves in a similar position is to talk about it and seek help and not try and contain or hide it through shame or ignorance. It’s really devastating to think that there are so many people out there in a similar position who can’t talk about their experiences and remain locked up in themselves, coming to work, smiling and pretending everything’s fine,” he said.
During his time as CEO Martin has overseen major changes within ACAMH and has helped to expand its staff to include professionals from a diverse range of backgrounds.
He has also embedded a new approach to leadership – the “managers of one” principle – whereby managers largely develop their own goals and direction and execute them independently within ACAMH’s broader strategic plan.
“On a personal level it’s been hugely liberating. On a business level it’s delivering results and lots of them through our new team, each of whom has brought with them initiative, entrepreneurial spirit, vision, and exceptional skills, all of whom have very quickly started to deliver on the three-year strategic vision we launched at the beginning of the year. There is now a genuine sense of ownership rather than just snatching glimpse of a wider plan.”
Martin also pointed to the role of ACAMH’s board, under the leadership of Professor Stephen Scott, who have played a key role in supporting the organisation through its recent changes.
ACAMH has also launched a new website, which has featured live webcasts, podcasts, interviews and news articles, and has seen its social media presence grow exponentially.
Its annual events programme has also been brought to life under a new team and will see a third national conference this year as well as a new addition to the line-up – the ‘Essentials’ series which aims to introduce a broad range of professionals to varied mental health topics.
Over the coming years Martin said he hoped to continue raising awareness of ACAMH and building its membership base.
Its new membership structure has recently been launched, offering new benefits and discounts, and Martin said he hopes to build on the foundations built over recent years to expand the organisation.
He said: “For me words just can’t do justice to the pride and importance I attach to working for ACAMH, I think I’ve got one of the best jobs in the world working with a team of professionals who are really evidently passionate about their work and how it impacts on the wellbeing of children and adolescents. The excitement I had back then, working for an organisation at the cutting edge of the evidence base, remains with me to this day.”