World Mental Health Day: Interview with hasta CEO David Lawlor

hasta CEO and Founder opens up about his struggles with mental health and how it inspired him to do something great

Nearly everyone struggles with mental health at some point in their lives. For some, it’s an ongoing battle that needs constant care, attention and support.

Mental health affects everyone, regardless of race, gender or status. The important thing is that we share experiences, lift one another and learn from each other. Empathy and compassion are some of our greatest assets as humans. This World Mental Health Day, hasta CEO opens up about his mental health struggles, how it has shaped him and what it pushed him to do.

It often takes a while to realise that there’s an underlying issue. When did you first suspect you might be suffering from a mental health issue?

“Let’s rewind to 2015. That’s when it all came to a head. For seven years, I had been working at a company that was driven by sales and disregarded its people. I was lucky that I was excellent at my job. I was living the high life, burning the candle at both ends and in the middle. In 2015, I came out with a rash that was all over my body. I was burnt out.”

At the time, did you know what was happening?

“No idea. I disregarded it as an allergic reaction, a potential allergy, but it was my body reacting to being under continuous pressure. I wasn’t eating right, exercising, getting enough water or sleeping. That, on top of the stress I made my body endure, it had had enough. This was a massive, physical signal about how I was leading my professional and personal life. I knew I had to make a change or I would end up becoming useless to everyone in my life.”

Did you leave your job?

“No, I didn’t. Instead, I started elective therapy in 2015, which made me analyse many intricate details of my past. It was during this time when I met Dylan Salamon, my business partner and our Wellbeing Director. Dylan was my personal trainer and acted as a spiritual guide through this tumultuous period. He was just finishing his yoga training and taught me how to sit with myself and live in the present moment. It was a true awakening.”

During this period in your life, were there any reflections that stood out to you?

“Suffering from burnout and taking that time off was the catalyst for the journey that takes us to where we are today. I knew the place I worked was toxic and needed a culture change. Working with Dylan made me realise the benefits of wellbeing. I always knew people were the key to any business, but it was only then that I felt I could make a broader change.”

Would you say this is the time you started talking about hasta?

“Yes. Although it wasn’t hasta as we know today. Hasta co-founders Charles Brittain, Christopher Scriven, Will Goy, and myself were talking about starting a business that focused on employee wellbeing. But this was only talk. It wasn’t until 2019 when we sadly lost a very close friend to suicide, did we get our act together. We witnessed the loss of our young friend and its devastating effect on his young family and just thought this is all so stupid. Something has to be done, something has to change.

“I was still working in my old role. As a shareholder, I could come and go as I pleased and even though I still had the pressure, I was in a privileged position. But I needed to do something more meaningful. Therapy taught me how to be present with myself, transforming me into a more effective, positive leader. My friend’s passing was the motivation I needed to actually take all these learnings and put them into play. And so, on 29th January 2020, Will, Charles, Chris, Dylan and I formed hasta.”

And we know what happens next…

“Yes, the pandemic.”

Right, Covid-19. A global pandemic. To an outsider, it seems pretty risky to start an events business during a national lockdown. What made you think you could do it?

“A mixture of blind confidence and belief in the team. We really wanted to do this. I practice gratitude as part of my meditation and mindfulness routine. I was so grateful to have these people around me, having lived through the effects of burnout and, at the end of the spectrum, my friend’s suicide. When you’re committed to an idea, I truly believe it will manifest.”

It’s been well documented that the pandemic affected many people’s mental health. How did you cope in this tumultuous time?

“With the skills I learnt post-burnout, I was able to have a really good year. It was a unique opportunity as a start-up. It gave us the time to set up the business correctly.  90% of start-ups fail but we were methodical and precise. The lockdowns provided us with space to think about what we needed to do: assess the competition, do a good old SWOT analysis, website creation etc. We built out the brand, its meaning and what we wanted to achieve.  

“I also learnt new skills. My background has always been sales so getting involved in design and digital was invigorating for my mind. Using video conferencing and, maintaining staff engagement and creating a positive social working environment is one of my greatest lockdown achievements. At times, the task we set ourselves seemed daunting, but we believed in it. It was, and continues to be, such a positive experience; waking up every day with a buzz, eager to get moving and do something.”

How do you think suffering from burnout shaped you as a person?

“Honestly, if I hadn’t suffered from mental health issues, I don’t think my work would have the purpose it does. Without experiencing burnout, the 3C’s (community, charity and conservation), would never exist. The 3Cs are the founding principles of hasta and were born out of 2015 as well as the self-betterment work I did with Dylan. I would’ve always set up a business, albeit, it probably would’ve been more focused on instant gratification, akin to the previous companies I’d been involved in. I wouldn’t have founded a business with any actual meaning. There was a time I didn’t care about how many flights I was on and it always had to be business class. Now, I am conscious of everything – what I put in my body and what I put out to the universe.”

This interview may have ended but the conversation hasn’t. World Mental Health Day is important, as is every other day of the year. Reach out to someone who is struggling, seek help and support for yourself if you need it. Remember, you aren’t alone.

Samaritans

Mind

NHS Mental Health