Talking about mental health challenges from a position of strength

Speaking to an employer about your mental health challenges can be difficult, and for a lot of people this can cause additional negative feelings, such as anxiety, stress and so on. It is natural to worry about how these conversations may go and how the person you are speaking to will react.

However, there is a growing opinion that when talking about mental health challenges it is possible to talk about the ‘positive’ effects that have come from these – for example, to paraphrase the head of welfare at my university, people who have experienced mental health problems have often developed resilience and strategies for dealing with difficult events that their peers haven’t.

While I completely appreciate that this is a very sensitive topic, this post will be looking at personal experiences focusing on how challenges in this area have brought strengths. I’ll link to some information on how to speak to an employer at the bottom.

I appreciate that people are in different positions with their own well-being, so you if you feel that it’s too soon to think about this topic in a such a way, that’s okay – maybe they’ll be another, better time at a later date.

Eleanor Mandelstam – Be Ur Own Light Blog

What I learnt from [many] setbacks is that life is too short. I had to write, I had to share about my experiences and I had to make something of my life, whatever that looked like after being so ill- and so I became an author and freelance journalist. I was determined not to waste time and to reach for my dreams but I struggled too with anxiety. I was determined to find some form of recovery again and I was lucky that my new medication and extensive therapy helped make that easier.

Strengths and attributes can most definitely be developed- resilience, inner strength, independence, achieving goals and wanting to give back have come from these experiences. I am also very in tune with other people’s experiences of mental illness and because I was first ill as a teenager I developed more empathy and grew up faster than the average 16 year old.

Jordan Simon, @realjordansimon –

I would say that you can develop strengths and attributes. Partially because you’re forced to in order to survive. But that also depends on the person as well. No two people are the same. Struggling, though, can definitely bring about things that you never thought you were capable of before.

Mike Veny, Keynote Speaker –

If you choose to see mental illness as an asset, you open up a great opportunity to find happiness, more success and serve people in your life more effectively…

Mental illness is an asset because it taught me how to connect with people…because it gave me my musical talent…because it taught me how to be a better leader and I’m not alone, there’s other people who have experienced the same thing I have…in the United States, President Abraham Lincoln was known to have struggled with depression, and historians argue that because of this depression he had the empathy and insight to confront one of the greatest moral cases in this country.

How to speak to an employer about your mental health challenges

The AGCAS Disability Task Group have produced a resource called ‘Explaining your Mental Health Condition to Others’. This can be accessed here.


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