Once upon a time when I was working as an intern, I stumbled upon a placard that read: “you don’t have to be crazy to work here, but if you are, it helps.”
I was recently reminded of it while reading a fascinating article on the professions that attract the most psychopaths. The article also called to mind an argument put forward by psychiatrist Sir Michael Rutter, who believes that some mental illnesses potentiate, not threaten, success in certain occupations.
Individuals with autism can be superb surgeons, for example. Similarly, hyper-empathizers can make very effective therapists and obsessive compulsive people can make badass accountants.
“You are more likely to experience a bout of mental illness than you are to acquire diabetes, heart disease or any kind of cancer whatsoever”.
Given that a recent study suggests that approximately 80% of the US population will experience a diagnosable mental health disorder by the time they are 50, it’s time to rethink the idea that disorders are inherent disadvantages.
So where do we begin? Here are five ways to start making “crazy” work for you.
- Realize you’re not alone. So many people live with a mental health “secret.” Take Daniel Pourasghar, co-founder of Campfire, for instance. After years of secrecy, Pourasghar revealed his struggle with bi-polar disorder to a group of friends on a trip to Patagonia. He wasn’t just met with acceptance and support, but a heartfelt admission from another friend about their own struggle with depression. The lesson here? You’re less alone than you think.
- Look for the silver lining. Turns out, mental health conditions don’t have to prevent you living your best life – in fact, in some cases they might actually facilitate it. Depression, anxiety, autism and obsessive compulsive disorder are all examples of problems that can blight a life. But they can also make individuals stronger, more empathetic, more compassionate and more resilient. Studies that find depressed people are significantly less likely to have a distorted view of a situation, and that individuals with bi-polar are more likely to achieve ambitious goals, remind us that mental illness has more silver lining than we might think.
- Ask for help. From therapists and counselors to apps like Talkspace, Ginger.io, Campfire, Elavatr and Shine, help is more accessible (and socially acceptable) than ever before. In fact, it’s often just a click away.
- Share your experience. Millennials are crushing it when it comes to talking about mental illness. “Despite being harder on themselves” writes journalist Linda Heck, millennials are “more accepting of others with mental illness than previous generations.” When you’re ready to do so, sharing your experience candidly can inspire curiosity, questions and closeness among family and friends.
- Realize you’re part of a rare pool of talent. Nassir Ghaemi, professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine, believes that in times of crisis, leaders with a “lifetime of sanity” can be a serious liability, while the experience and lessons of mental illness have proven invaluable. Companies like Microsoft, SAP and Morgan Chase seem to agree. They are increasingly recruiting “neurodiverse” workers in an effort to promote “diversity in thinking.”
** On a personal note I’ve had Major Depressive Disorder since my early 20’s – there have been tough times but I’ve definitely made ‘crazy’ work for me in building my practice and my life.