Bernie Wong | Senior Associate, Mind Share Partners
The national discourse for mental health is growing with the popularity of “wellness, “stress management,” and “mindfulness” programs at companies. But there still remain stereotypes and misconceptions about working professionals who are managing mental health conditions—diagnosed or not.
When you think about the individuals who are actively managing a mental health condition, many people will think about the nonfunctional, the homeless, or the unemployed. And when you think about mental health conditions showing up at work, most will think about employees whose work is suffering or those who have taken a leave of absence to sort out their “personal issues.” This assumption is misleading.
In fact, a recent 2018 study by UCSF found that mental health conditions are disproportionately represented in entrepreneurs—a demographic of people whose vision, grit, and dedication we celebrate as a culture and seek out in recruitment.
As a facilitator of confidential peer groups for professionals managing mental health conditions, here are just 5 things I’ve learned about these individuals that challenge the narrative of the “unproductive” or “non-functioning” employee.
1. They are successful and high-achieving.
Time and time again, I am impressed by the caliber of expertise and achievement accomplished by our peers. At Mind Share Partners’ peer groups, I’ve met an independent consultant managing full portfolios of work as well as their Major Depressive Disorder. I’ve met an organizational leader driving the strategy of their work while navigating symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And I’ve met a company executive overseeing multiple peoples and teams in a fast-paced environment while monitoring their cycles of mania and depression from Bipolar II. All of these individuals actively manage a mental health condition at work every day, yet they have achieved much more than what is typically associated with “people with mental health conditions.” How is that so?
2. They leverage their “weakness.”
Mental health conditions are almost exclusively framed as a flaw, as something that detracts from work quality and the ability to perform, as something that’s career-limiting or career-ending. Mind Share Partners’ peer groups intentionally start our first meeting with a strengths-based discussion to reverse this narrative. In these conversations, we have found that individuals managing mental health conditions utilize their weaknesses as strengths. Folks managing manic symptoms take advantage of their spurts of productivity. People managing symptoms of anxiety identify flaws and gaps while developing contingency plans. And individuals managing low energy and depressive symptoms optimize workflows that allow the rest of their team to optimize their energy expenditures, ultimately creating more productive systems and processes.
I don’t intent to romanticize mental health conditions. As someone who manages chronic depression himself, the experience can be a heavy burden and varies widely between individuals. Still, introducing nuance to a discourse around mental health conditions that has historically been shrouded in shame and stigma is not only necessary to bring this issue to light, but highlights the outstanding achievements of these individuals in spite of.