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Knowledge and experience

Glenys explains, “If you have a long-term chronic mental health condition, you're probably between the ages of 30 and 60, so you already have a wealth of knowledge and experience of life. And someone who has lived experience of managing a moderate to severe mental health condition has potentially developed constructive coping strategies to manage changes they experience, which develops alternative connections within the brain, in terms of how they think and how they feel. These are great transferable skills when you're looking at change management in businesses.”

We are all familiar with the idea that there are positives to having a mind that works differently, and thinking outside the box can be a driver for innovation and business success.

Sir Richard Branson famously described his dyslexia as an “exceptionality” which contributed to his success.4 Bipolar disorder has long been associated with increased creativity.5 And a recent American study found 72% of entrepreneurs were affected, directly or indirectly, by mental health differences and concluded “these conditions may foster the pursuit of entrepreneurship”.6

Specific strengths

The researchers added, “Understanding, exploiting, and managing the specific strengths and vulnerabilities associated with specific psychiatric conditions can contribute to improved entrepreneurship education, executive coaching, business outcomes, and firm survival.”

Glenys says the first step is to make sure employees know that support is available and they have the confidence and trust to access it. “From my experience, I know that many people with a significant mental health condition are reluctant to share that information with their employees.”

Structured conversations

“It’s about having a more structured conversation. You might say, ‘I’m a little bit concerned because I’ve noticed a change in you.’ Or, ‘I know we’ve all got a lot going on at the moment, but I just wanted to check in with you.’ It’s just a different way of saying ‘Are you OK?’ but you are doing it in a way where you will get a more detailed response.”

Chronic mental health conditions are complex, and can be impacted by work, so it is also important for employers to understand an individual’s triggers. Is there a pattern to someone’s resilience becoming low? What are the triggers? Stress, deadlines, meeting expectations, can all be factors — but these will vary and one person’s stressor can be another’s support.

“Another trigger is change, especially with some of the more complex mental health conditions, such as personality disorders.”

Value of lived experience

Glenys is passionate about the benefits support for staff with chronic mental health conditions will bring, pointing out that successful teams are built on a broad range of skills and strengths. “People with lived experience of a chronic mental health condition can bring the additional strength of compassion and they can be really good at getting things right in terms of how we support teams.

“Someone who has learnt to make significant changes to their own life may be better able to bring that breadth and depth of knowledge into the workplace.”

Supporting you

1 https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN06988/SN06988.pdf (PDF 2.4MB)

2 https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12888-020-2460-5

3 https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/qs80/chapter/quality-statement-5-supported-employment-programmes

4 https://www.virgin.com/branson-family/richard-branson-blog/exceptionalities-should-be-celebrated

5 https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-050718-095449

6 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11187-018-0059-8

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