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When Mental Health Challenges Become a Leadership Asset

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One day, while daydreaming, I realised that people with all types of mental health issues, especially those with advanced ideas and thoughts, could ultimately lead the world. This seemed like a mere figment of my imagination, similar to the fantasy world of the “Willy Wonka” films and their theme of “Pure Imagination”. But this idea of creativity having potential negatives also seemed like a distinct possibility.

This conclusion isn’t just a daydream; it’s supported by researchers. They’ve found that the best leaders for organisations of all types are those who understand themselves well. Experience shows that self-aware individuals, comfortable with their identity, connect with others in compassionate ways. This approach fosters loyalty, creativity, and productivity in their teams. It’s a win-win scenario, moving away from productivity driven by stern supervision.

The Biblical phrase “The meek shall inherit the Earth” supports this idea. It suggests that gentle and soft individuals, often those dealing with mental health challenges, are destined for leadership. Given the right opportunities, their experiences with adversity become a source of motivation for positive change.

Adversity is a powerful teacher for understanding ourselves and becoming effective leaders. While some face tragedies or health issues that force them to reassess their values, the result is often more compassionate leaders and happier, more creative workers. Successful businesses recognise and leverage this fact.

One day, it struck me: where better to find people who’ve grown through adversity than in psych hospitals or vocational programmes? Those who’ve been there, or are there could be excellent leadership candidates.

In a recent Zoom panel with psychiatrists, the discussion included individuals facing challenges and adversity. Towards the end, someone asked about the positives of having a mental health issue. Surprisingly, the psychiatrist responded that people with mental illnesses are often great problem solvers who think ‘outside the box.’ After having their sense of reality challenged, they’re more open to risks and creativity. He used John Nash as an example of how mental health issues can lead to successful, creative thinking.

I’ve often been told that my creative mind will take me places. My unique perspective on challenges often leads to distinct approaches and solutions, thinking outside and even beyond the traditional ‘box’.

Considering my own experiences with altered reality perceptions, I noticed changes in my surroundings and felt intense anxiety and OCD symptoms. This led to a visit to my psychiatrist and an adjustment in my medication, but the experience stayed with me.

In conclusion, those of us with mental illnesses understand the challenges and impacts on cognitive abilities and perceptions. Yet, society is beginning to recognise the value of these experiences in fostering personal growth and development.

Therefore, professionals should focus on building upon an individual’s strengths, such as creative problem-solving, and use them to enhance recovery. This “Strength-Based Approach” looks at individuals’ strengths, not just their illnesses.

As this approach becomes more common in employment and other societal areas, I predict a future where recruiters will actively seek leaders from psychiatric hospitals. The job requirements will emphasise life-changing experiences and value mental health backgrounds, marking a significant shift in our societal and professional paradigms.

Across the world, individuals with mental health issues hold high-profile positions and excel when given opportunities. While it might seem unrealistic, the possibility exists. It could be a dream, or it could become reality.

So, look out, world. We’re on our way to making a difference!

Howard Diamond is a certified peer specialist from Long Island, New York.


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