Managing Mental Health Conditions at Work Starts at the Top of the Org Chart

Having the courage to be relatable and vulnerable doesn't make you weak--it makes you brave.

Kelly Greenwood| Founder and CEO, Mind Share Partners

This article was originally published on Mind Share Partners' "Mental Health at Work" section on Thrive Global.

In order to be a startup founder, you have to be pretty passionate about your cause. It’s what justifies the intense work hours, exhaustion, constant cheerleading, and financial and emotional risks. In fact, many founders are both predisposed to mental health conditions and also struggle because of all the stress and highs and lows inherent to entrepreneurship.

I knew this when I founded Mind Share Partners, a nonprofit focused on workplace mental health. The irony was obvious from the start. My passion for the cause was profound; I had to take a leave of absence at one point as an executive in the social sector because my generalized anxiety disorder had led to debilitating depression. Still, I dove in determined to lead on this burgeoning issue. I knew better than anyone that my unique qualifications would also appear to be my biggest point of vulnerability. I wanted to assure everyone—myself included—that anxiety wouldn’t prevent me from providing others with the kind of support I wish I’d had while I was struggling.

Part of what gave me the courage to found Mind Share Partners was that I could largely speak to my own challenges in the past tense. Sure, I still take medicine and go to therapy regularly as preventive measures, but aside from a few days to weeklong blips, I haven’t had a major episode since 2011.

Then came the lead up to May’s Mental Health Awareness Month. Mind Share Partners became incredibly busy ramping up our corporate workshops, expanding our peer groups, and planning our flagship Mental Health At Work Mini-Conference, featuring executives from several major organizations. Wanting to leverage this month to its fullest, in true startup fashion, I agreed to more than any lean team should attempt. It ended up triggering my anxiety for the first time since I challenged myself to put myself out there in front of others and do this work.

At first, I was just overwhelmed, as any leader would be. But then, the disordered part of my anxiety kicked in and made me fear the anxiety itself, worrying about spiraling into the depths of that depressive episode seven years ago that I dread going back to.

How would I lead my organization through our busiest month if I ended up in that state?

Until that moment of reconciliation, I was proud of having my anxiety be very well-managed. I started to realize that this belief actually reflects my own self-stigma. It seemed OK to have conquered something successfully and to talk about it in the past—but not to struggle in the present. For those who are currently struggling, it would be pretty anno