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Look me in the eye and tell me that you’ll hire me – Guest Blog by Clare Linane

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For a few years now, I’ve contemplated writing about my depression on LinkedIn.

After all, you’re all saying the right things.

“We value diversity”.

“We don’t discriminate”.

“We support our employee’s mental well-being”.

“[Insert company name] supports diversity in the workplace. Please ask us about our flexible work policies”.

But as a HR professional myself, I know the reality is not quite so rosy.

Hiring people with mental health issues is – let’s face it – a bit of a risk. Even more of a risk than a typical hire, you could say.

What if they go through a tough stage? What if their health unravels at a key point in a project? What if they’re unreliable? These are not unreasonable questions, by the way. I’ve asked them myself when I was hiring someone who I suspected had mental health issues.

So for me, going public on LinkedIn was always just a bit too scary. Colleagues advised against it. “You might be judged Clare”. “Once it’s out there, you can’t take it back”. So I’ve always wimped out. I’m an intelligent and talented woman. Just the idea that I’ll miss out on opportunities, be judged, considered a high risk hire…it’s excruciating to think about.

And even though it has become far more acceptable to admit to mental health issues – please don’t discuss the sordid details. It’s enough to admit you struggle…we don’t need to hear the realities of what it feels like.

But today…today I’ve changed my mind. Today I’m feeling brave enough – or stupid enough – to put it all out there.

I have a lot to share, and intend to write many articles…but to start with I’d just like to begin by explaining why we ‘mental health types’ need flexibility in the workplace, and two types of flexibility that can help.

First, part time work.

The best analogy I can give you for this is your smart phone. Yep, your smart phone.

If you’ve got an iPhone 6 like me, you’ll know those b*sta*d things always seem to be going flat. I can barely get through the day without mine getting to 3 or 4%.

My friend who has a Samsung Galaxy S7 tell me this doesn’t happen. Her S7 goes through a whole day and still has plenty of charge to spare at the end of it.

So here’s the thing. If you don’t have mental health issues – you’re the S7.

If, like me, you do – you’re the iPhone 6.

Working part-time helps me stay well because, put simply, I need more time plugged into the charger than the average phone…err…person.

I need a good 8 or 9 hours sleep. I need time to sit in the sunshine and pull weeds in my garden. I need to exercise. I need time to just sit. Sit. Recover. Process. Ponder. Not do any high level brain processing activity.

It’s not an indulgence – it’s a necessity. When I don’t factor this ‘downtime’ into my day to day life…my battery goes flat.

I start experiencing a raft of depression symptoms that (initially) have nothing to do with sadness, and more to do with my cognitive abilities slowing right down. Suddenly instead of operating with broadband, I’ve gone back to dial up (an entire article on that another day). Smart and talented Clare becomes slow and not-quite-processing-what-you’re-saying Clare.

Part-time work is critical in making sure I have the time do to what recharges my batteries and keeps me well.

The second type of flexibility that can help is working from home.

This is particularly useful to we ‘mental health types’ when we’ve started to slip a little…drop under a 20% battery charge, if you will.

Why? Well because one thing people with mental health issues are great at is…ACTING!! We develop incredibly good skills at faking it. Even when my mental health has started to slip, I can still smile and look perfectly normal to my colleagues. But look closely and you’ll see that my cognitive ability has started to shrink…my ability to listen and understand what someone is saying; to construct an answer in my head then respond appropriately; to think; to solve a problem; to make a decision; to read an email; to write a sentence; – my ability to do all these things begins to diminish.

Working from home helps because I don’t have to waste precious energy trying to look ‘normal’, in an attempt not to make you or anyone else around me uncomfortable. I can sit gazing at my screen a few seconds longer than average, a quizzical look on my face, while my brain catches on to what I’m supposed to be doing. Remove the pressure of faking it, and I can focus all my energy on the task at hand. I can achieve something. Which helps me feel better. Which helps me get better. And so the potential downward cycle is replaced with an upward cycle and we’re all better off.

Now… let’s go back to those starting statements.

“We value diversity”.

“We don’t discriminate”.

“We support our employee’s mental well-being”.

“[insert company name] supports diversity in the workplace. Please ask us about our flexible work policies”.

Diversity can be MESSY.

Flexibility can be MESSY.

Supporting people with mental health issues can be MESSY.

But having flexibility in our work arrangements – part-time, working from home – is what helps KEEP us well.

And I promise you this… hiring someone who faces and manages mental health issues can bring a richness, compassion and warmth to your company culture. Our life experience affords insights, skills and abilities that are priceless. MY life experience affords insights, skills and abilities that are priceless.

So….now you know the truth. Look me in the eye. Will you still hire me?

 

Clare Linane delivers a well-being session called BrainSweet to workplaces.  In the workshop, participants learn a series of incredibly simple, scientifically validated strategies that positively impact our brain, and as a result our mental health. For more information visit https://www.linkedin.com/company/7577343/

 

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Comments 4

  1. Torie Campbell

    Well done Clare for discussing this still often taboo topic. A lot of people struggle with various mental health issues and feel inferior those they perceive as ‘normal’. It’s interesting to find out we all struggle at times!

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  3. Rebecca

    Clare – I love the phone analogy!
    I have a couple of brain things going on myself.
    I never really considered that the ‘faking happy’ was directly taking energy away from being able to do my job well. But you are SO right. It’s like switching to ‘low power mode’ when you hit 20%, instead of being able to go home and plug the damn phone in.

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    Ange Connor

    Thanks for your feedback Rebecca, we love the phone analogy, we find it really helps people to understand and relate

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