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Gareth Turner/ The Courageous Leaders Club Podcast. Released 2022.
Gareth Turner: Creating Environments of Psychological Safety

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High Functioning Depression in Leadership

High Functioning Depression in Leadership

Now, more than ever, it is likely that we know and indeed work with someone who is living with a mental health condition, and so recognising days such as a World Mental Health Day is an important step in starting conversations around mental health and supporting those that need it.

And no, it is not always easy to recognise when someone is struggling, especially as our perception of mental health may not always be accurate.  When we speak about mental health problems, we picture people who are sad and withdrawn, or simply not their usual self and can easily mistake smiles for being ok.

Earlier this year I interviewed Brie Stewart for my podcast, and during the episode she spoke very openly about her journey with High Functioning Depression, a term that I wasn’t previously familiar with.

Brie is an award-winning Creative Director with over 13 years’ experience including working at esteemed Public Relations Agency Edelman, and the advertising agencies Ogilvy, Clemenger BBDO, and most recently Wunderman Thompson.

When you read her bio, it’s certainly impressive and so it was fascinating to hear her experiences about how she was doing publicly; she was going to work and had a successful career, and under the surface she was living with depression.

During the interview Brie explained that she has lived with High Functioning Depression for years and while her introverted side was thriving during the isolation, she was also inspired to share her story. 

I Feel It Too, We’ll Get It Done was Brie’s way of starting the conversation about those mental health issues that are easier to overlook or miss. She wanted to highlight the ‘behind the scenes’ part of HFD: the internal struggles, the severe tiredness and the complete and utter lack of motivation. She was fine. But she wasn’t. Her message was so powerful, it really is ok not to be ok and that we need to create cultures where we all feel comfortable to speak out about it, no matter our level of seniority.

It wasn’t an article that Brie wrote lightly; she acknowledged that it felt risky. Working in an industry that is so competitive and where busyness is worn as a badge of honour, to admit that she was struggling to stay afloat, was a real risk that she would be seen as weak and not resilient.

However, the reality was that the article was met with an outpouring of support both publicly and privately; showing that speaking out and working through our struggles is the strongest and bravest acts we can take.

In fact, Brie actually credits her vulnerability as making her a better and more courageous leader, and I was moved by some of the points she shared as to why, including:

Being comfortable with not being perfect builds trust

When you’ve shared a difficult moment, you demonstrate that we are all human and we all have to move through difficult times.

Having the courage to say “I’m not ok” opens up conversations

These conversations then create an atmosphere of honesty and integrity where people feel comfortable showing their own vulnerability.

Practising what we preach about the importance of rest

This is especially true at times of great pressure. When you show that you prioritise rest it sets the example that you can achieve, but not at the expense of your health.

Understanding that there is a ‘no’ in every ‘yes’

Every new commitment we make takes time and energy away from other things. Getting comfortable with saying ‘no’ demonstrates the importance of setting clear boundaries.

Accepting that you will not always be liked

Being comfortable with the fact that it is more important to speak your truth than to sit in silence encourages your team to speak up too.

It was truly inspiring listening to Brie talk about High-Functioning Depression and how being open about it has freed her up to be a stronger and more effective leader.

To learn more about how our own vulnerability can help us become better leaders listen to the podcast here