1 in 10. That’s the probability that you have a member of your team who has received a mental health diagnosis. According to Our World in Data 792 million people are currently living with a mental health diagnosis. That’s 10.7% of our global population. Or 1 in 10. It’s quite probable that if you are a leader in Corporate America today there is someone on your team who is currently living with a diagnosis. As a result of the Pandemic, economic strain, the heightened political climate and the social unrest we all experienced in 2020 there is also a high likelihood that members of your team are pushing at the edges of their mental and emotional health tool kits and could be treading water or even in crisis.

Leaders who can tune their awareness to the mental and emotional health of their team will find that they develop stronger relationships and a deeper understanding of why people on their team do what they do, and most importantly how to facilitate each person stepping into their zone of genius.

You may be asking, so what? What does that translate into for my team? In my experience, teams who can create a safe container to bring your whole self to work AND fill their team’s plates with even as little as 10% zone of genius tasks experience big gains in productivity and work quality that I believe come from achieving a collective flow state.

Collective flow state requires a safe container for your team to come to work as their WHOLE selves. And for 1 out of 10 people that means feeling safe to own their mental health diagnosis, publicly or privately.

When I received my Bipolar diagnosis the first time, shame kept me from the medicine I so desperately needed to bring the MYSELF back into ME. Here are things that people have said in my presence, at work, that were trigger phrases for me as I came into owning my mental health diagnosis, both publicly and privately. Each of these trigger phrases left me feeling less safe to share my diagnosis and in some cases could have become mental loops, repeating in my head, potentially destroying my desire to come to work.

I fully acknowledge there are two sides to this coin. As someone with a mental health diagnosis it is important for me to recognize my own triggers, take a deep breath and resolve the trigger inside of me. After all, that’s where it resides.

AND I believe it is also important for leaders to understand how NOT to trigger someone with a mental health diagnosis so they don’t potentially leave them in a vulnerable state before, during or after work.

For all of us, the work is found in the practice of developing awareness and practicing course correction where necessary because chances are it will be necessary. And that’s got to be ok. That’s where the growth. Growth always feels uncomfortable. It wouldn’t be growth if it didn’t. Sitting in discomfort can be hard. But as Glennon Doyle says in her book Untamed, “we can do hard things.”

Here are 8 phrases that have triggered me and could unintentionally leave someone with a mental health diagnosis in a place of vulnerability at work

  1. They are crazy. They’re mental. They’re insane. Often used when describing someone we disagree with, dislike, or to discredit someone, rather than to truly describe a mental health diagnosis. So in essence, you’re using unkind words to describe someone’s mental health condition as a weapon to affect the public perception of them. That’s uncool. And it’s a potential trigger because while you’re talking about someone else, they could perceive this is how you would talk about them, if they have received an actual diagnosis and they weren’t in the room.
  2. They are sick. They’re mentally ill. The concept of our state of mental health being an illness is controversial. While it is necessary to have a medical diagnosis of an illness or a disease to receive the on-going medications many of us need to manage our symptoms for insurance purpose, it isn’t necessarily how we would describe our permanent state. When our condition is managed we don’t feel sick. Many of us also wouldn’t categorize ourselves as “ill”, especially mentally ill. Considering that mentally “ill” is also used to describe sociopaths, child abusers and people who otherwise hurt society, this can be an especially triggering phrase and one I especially don’t self identify with. There is a difference between being unwell and being mentally ill. If my condition is currently unmanaged, I might be unwell. If I am in crisis, I might be experiencing mental illness. I am NEVER permanently in a state of unwellness or illness because I’ve received a diagnosis. Using negative identifiers to describe mental health is uncool.
  3. They are Bipolar. They’re manic. Often used as an explanation for behaviors the other person doesn’t understand, doesn’t agree with or are otherwise socially acceptable, rather than to truly describe behaviors that relate to a mental health diagnosis. So in essence, you’re using a diagnosis and/or symptoms of a mental health diagnosis as a weapon to affect the perception of her behavior. That’s uncool.
  4. Back to they are Bipolar. If you know a person has a mental health diagnosis and/or suspect someone has a mental health diagnosis sharing it with other people is almost always uncool. This is especially uncool if a person confided in you. A person’s mental health diagnosis in almost all cases has absolutely nothing to do with the conversation at hand. Unless you are dealing with a person in crisis and you are coordinating help and resources for that individual you mentioning their diagnosis is uncool.
  5. They have ” ________ issues”. Daddy issues. Mommy issues. Any kind of issues. Fill in the blank with your latest explanation for someone’s behavior that unnecessarily exposes their trauma for your social gain. This is usually used as a weapon to discredit someone. I am someone who has had “Daddy issues”. My Dad committed suicide when I was 9. I was also molested by men, multiple men, multiple times. I am someone who has had to overcome patterns with the masculine as a result of this. Outing someone’s trauma is uncool.
  6. They are (INSERT JUDGEMENT HERE) As someone with a mental health diagnosis I am hyperaware of people who judge others based upon their own worldview and values. Why? Because if you are judging other people, you will probably judge me. If you will judge me, I can’t bring my WHOLE self to you. Unfortunately, I have found judgement to be so socially acceptable it goes completely unnoticed and unchecked at the office. It happens in the pre-meeting conversations A LOT. But I’ve also experienced, what I call “group judging”. It’s kind of like group think, only it’s what happens when someone throws out a judgement and their social proof that their judgement is correct. Then everyone in the room jumps on the bandwagon either judging the same person or other people who are like that person. Judging others is uncool.

These are triggers because while you’re talking about someone else, I could perceive this is how you would talk about me if I weren’t in the room and you knew about my diagnosis. This creates a home for shame in the office. If I feel like my diagnosis might become a weapon used against me and/or might affect my reputation in the company, I’m not only unlikely to share, I’m unlikely to feel truly safe coming to work. Safety is found in the subtleties of our behaviors, not in our HR policies.

I get it. Chances are you have done at least one of these things at the office. It’s ok. To be honest, we all have. I HAVE! And I am still practicing not falling into the pattern of judging others to let off my own steam or to receive social approval.

What do you do if you’ve done any of these things and/or do them in the future?

  1. Forgive yourself. You didn’t know what you didn’t know. Remember not to judge yourself for having a blind spot. We all have them. And hopefully now you see this one and can pull it out of the closet and into the limelight for you to address. Forgive yourself and focus on taking action on being the leader you want to be now.
  2. Acknowledge. Apologize. Act. I learned these three simple and effective tips from Chris Brogan in his book Trust Agents. Whether your in the moment or it’s after the fact, if you recognize you have exhibited these behaviors in the presence of someone you know has a mental health diagnosis the courageous choice is to own it, no matter where you are or who is in the room, apologize for the behavior and tell them how you will change your behavior in the future. I would even take it a step further and ask them to join my accountability team to show me my blind spots.
  3. Increase your awareness. Hang this list next to your workspace. The great thing about working from home is that you can hang this in a place that only you can see AND that you can use as your own check point and accountability partner during the day. You can only address what you are aware of. Make it easy to increase your awareness with a visual aid.
  4. Do a weekly review. Look at where you really knocked it out of the park. Ask, what really worked? As you become aware of your slips of judgement you may notice that your language patterns switch from those of judgement to those of compassion, empathy and understanding. Reward and acknowledge yourself for these behaviors. Then ask, what would make it even better? Just as you wouldn’t judge others, remember not to judge yourself. We often look at where we “messed up” or at “what we did wrong” creating a mental loop of self judgement that gets reflected back into the world through external judgement. Instead, look at where you can improve and get excited about your growth.
  5. Create a plan for how you will address your slips before you have them. You will totally slip along the way. As you increase awareness you may even notice that you have MORE slips, not less. That’s part of the process of uncovering all of your unconscious patterns so you can redirect them into what you want so celebrate it! Seriously, celebrate your slips. Every one is one more step towards a kinder you. In my experimentation, I’ve found I must take action to correct the behavior in the moment even while it’s happening for the best impact on behavior change. Keep your plan simple and memorable. Mine plan is to acknowledge the behavior in my head, stop the behavior immediately, even if mid-sentence. Acknowledge the behavior. “I’ve noticed that I have a pattern of doing THIS and I am working on correcting it, so let me restate that or rephrase that.” And then I do it and move on.

The cycle starts with you. If you can stop judging yourself and you will naturally stop judging others. If you can stop seeking external validation you will naturally stop sharing other people’s stuff to detract attention from your own. We are in a time where we need transformational leaders who can inspire and unlock the potential of their teams. That starts with trust. And trust is earned through your conscious and unconscious actions. Your team is always watching you. Hold yourself accountable to lead by example and create a safe space for those with a mental health diagnosis to thrive at work. Then watch what kind of magic unfolds.