Just the other day, I had the pleasure to Chair a conference around the topic of the Future of Work. The conference organised by Chris Cummings of sonic events, held in London with a fantastic lineup of speakers including Twitter, BT, PWC, IBM and for Citi Group.
The afternoon session started with a talk around Artificial Intelligence, a topic that I was also going to be talking about later on in the day.
The second-afternoon session completely shook me up. Mr Rob Stephenson, the founder of inside-out, talked about Mental Health, and openly spoke about his bi-polar life.
Rob humbles me. He explained how he took on this challenge and turned it into an opportunity! Rob has started a foundation for senior business leaders, to allow them to open up about their experience of mental ill-health.
From the website, inside-out.org, they write.
Each year, we publish a list of senior leaders from our workplaces who are open about their experience of mental ill-health. The list designed to celebrate each leader who has decided to open up around mental ill-health. Playing their part in ending the stigma and helping others in their organisation speak out and seek help. We will grow the list each year, creating a ripple effect of more and more executives speaking out until it is as normal to talk about mental ill-health in the business world as it is to disclose a broken leg.
While Rob was talking, he mentions some of his daily checklist items of which one was about honesty. My stomach started to hurt, and I suddenly began to remember a deep dark place where I was some 15 years ago. I remembered my promise to myself that I must always be honest to myself.
I often inform people when I explain my professional journey about the fact that I once hit the wall and the doctors told me that I had only six months to live. I have described some of the reasons why and the changes I made after the recovery of my illness. I never explain the mental illness that took effect or horrible mental journey that I went through.
Rob Stephenson was talking about his everyday life with Bipolar. He said that today was about 6½ out of 10 and I felt so small in his shadow. As chairperson of the conference, I ask a couple of questions to the speaker after their talk. My body started to shake, my stomach was churning, and my eyes were filling up with water, both from remembering the worst times of my illness but also with Rob’s uplifting talk. It usually is effortless for me to talk and to facilitate these types of events, but this was emotional now, I grabbed his hand as if he had just become the world champion and thanked him for one of the best experiences in a conference I ever had!
I turned to the audience and explained that this was difficult for me. Having gone through some mental illness in the past and thinking it was over but really, I have been dishonest with myself, and that I am still trying to keep it in a box, buried deep in my soul, Rob has switched on the light and made me face this reality again. I did not think that I would be receiving therapy while at this conference.
However, this is not about me, as this is about a true hero and leader, Rob Stephenson, who has used this illness as an opportunity and instead of hiding mental illness like many do and have done in the past. He uses it as a catalyst to show to the world that many of us have some form of mental illness, making aware to the world that hundreds of senior business leaders have mental illness and understand these challenges, to smash the stigma of mental illness in our business and workplaces.
Thank you, Rob and your family for switching on the light!