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5 Things You Might Not Know About Professionals Managing Mental Health Conditions

Updated: Sep 27, 2018

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.

3. They are great managers.

During our strengths-based conversations, many of our professionals have described that managing a mental health condition has actually heightened their sensitivity, understanding, and empathy for their direct reports.

One executive director was able to notice signs of distress in a direct report and worked with them to create a plan of support before a crisis emerged.

As a result of their own lived experience, these individuals are able to create systems, processes, and cultures that support mental health and wellbeing.

4. They have a lot on their shoulders.

Despite managing a mental health condition, the professionals in our forums are very successful and high-performing individuals. On top of this drive to succeed, however, they are still covering, or hiding that they manage a mental health condition at work. Many, if not most, work cultures have not yet shown themselves to be places of safety when talking about mental health. We’re increasingly hearing about “stress,” “wellness,” and “mindfulness.” But workplaces have yet to take the extra step to demonstrating that their culture is open and supportive of mental health conditions. As some of our professionals have shared, this added burden of covering in the workplace can sometimes be even more burdensome than the condition itself. Ultimately, the onus is on companies to show their employees that their work culture supports mental health.

5. They are resilient.

It’s a mistake to assume that mental health conditions only have a sudden onset that negatively impacts an employee’s ability to perform and function in a workplace setting.

In fact, the National Comorbidity Survey Replication found that the average delay time from when symptoms of a mental health condition emerge to when an individual first seeks treatment was 10 years.

With this in mind, mental health conditions end up emerging in the workplace setting due to a wide variety of factors. This includes an overburdened workload, a toxic work environment, an unsupportive manager, or a culture of shame and stigma that prevent employees from seeking the support they need. Companies and their leaders have a responsibility to establish policies, practices, and norms that encourage help-seeking by employees in a safe and supportive way.

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.

The professionals at Mind Share Partners’ peer groups along with recent research has shown that mental health conditions are just as prevalent in high-performing, successful individuals. With 1 in 5 Americans managing a diagnosable mental health condition every year, these individuals are already in your workplace—and excelling. It’s on companies to learn how to better support their staff and create mentally healthy workplaces.

If you are a high performer managing a mental health condition and want to connect and share support and strategies for navigating mental health at work, join a Mind Share Partners peer group today.

Bernie is a Senior Associate at Mind Share Partners. He focuses primarily on organization programming, marketing, and design. 
Prior to Mind Share Partners, Bernie was an Associate at HopeLab, a human-centered design consulting nonprofit, where he developed evidence-based products and solutions to support mental health and wellbeing. Bernie has also worked in freelance visual design, in education at Stanford as a Head Teaching Assistant, and in editorial work and academic research. Bernie also sits on the board of the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance (GAPA) Foundation, a grassroots philanthropic organization that provides funds and leverages resources to empower Asian/Pacific Islander LGBTQ students, organizations, and communities.
Bernie holds a Master of Health Science in Mental Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a B.A. in Psychology and Sociology from UC Berkeley. 
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