Imagine you suffer from depression, anxiety, or another mental illness, and that you’ve been conditioned your entire adult life to hide your struggles… especially in the workplace. (Maybe you don’t have to imagine at all…)
Then, picture going to work for a company led by a badass boss babe who talks about her own mental illness, regularly, for an audience of hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram. Would that not feel like the sweetest sigh of relief?
Believe it or not, it’s a real thing—the company is Ban.do and its founder, Jen Gotch, is breaking down the major barriers that separate us from honest conversation about mental health in a professional setting. Namely, by talking about it at all.
On Instagram, Gotch—who has bipolar 2 disorder—often employs a ratings system in order to quickly communicate (to friends, family members, colleagues, and everyone else who follows her) the type of day she’s having with respect to her mental health. Because her moods vacillate between depression and mania, her ideal day, she says, is a 7.8. “It’s a one to 10 scale, but 10 is really manic,” she explains. “So even though it’s fun, that’s not an ideal place to be.”
Picture going to work for a company led by a badass boss babe who talks about her own mental illness, regularly, for an audience of hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram. Would that not feel like the sweetest sigh of relief?
This system, Gotch says, started back when she was in college, before she had even been diagnosed. (Her first-ever diagnosis was of depression post-college—it would take many years and tears to get to the bipolar label she now wears proudly.) Her mom devised the ratings hack as a quick-and-painless way of checking in with her daughter, who was, at the time, relatably resistant to going into detail around how she was feeling. (If you’ve ever said, “I’m fine,” while your insides are screaming, I’m sure you can relate.)
I ask Gotch how others who struggle with mental health issues can make space for themselves to do so from 9 to 5, not just on nights and weekends, if they’re not ready to go public or don’t operate within a work culture that supports such openness. First and foremost, she answers, they might consider changing employers to one that, like Ban.do, is evolved enough so that it’s not going to be a big deal if you need to take a mental health day or negotiate some percentage of work-from-home time.
Because major moves aren’t always possible, however, Gotch also suggests a far easier trick to employ on the DL. “Use your sick days wisely,” she says. “If you suffer from mental illness, you know that bad days can come out of nowhere and if you don’t have the ability to work from home, you need to find other ways to look out for yourself.” She, for example, used to “have the flu” a lot, she adds.
Finally, she suggests making it a priority to open the lines of communication with whoever it is at work that makes decisions about when and if you can take time off. “That’s the person who you probably need to build the trust and the communication with and contextualize it with them,” she says.
“If you suffer from mental illness, you know that bad days can come out of nowhere and if you don’t have the ability to work from home, you need to find other ways to look out for yourself.” —Jen Gotch, Ban.do founder
To this end, she advises approaching your illness in these conversations from a less emotional, more logical standpoint. “It’s easier to dismiss emotions,” Gotch explains. “That’s not to say that you can’t express how it feels, but I think people hear things like ‘sad’ and think you can work through it.” Instead, she advises leading with the science. “The brain is the most complicated organ in the body, so it makes sense that all sorts of things could glitch out on all levels,” she says. “That’s been a way for me to explain it to people where they don’t have to understand how it feels but rather just understand that it’s a physiological malfunction—and you wouldn’t deny other physiological malfunctions.”
If that still sounds tricky, it’s for this reason that Gotch is now making it her goal to help de-stigmatize these types of conversations beyond her own Instagram feed. This passion gave birth to Ban.do’s Feel Better initiative, which she tells me is a top priority for the company right now. One very visible aspect of this program is Gotch’s jewelry collab with Iconery, which created quick-to-sell-out necklaces that say “anxiety” and “depression.” She hopes the pieces—proceeds from which go to a mental-health-awareness charity called Bring Change To Mind this month—can act as conversation-starters. Recently, the line expanded to include two new necklace designs—one reads “bipolar” and the other “7.8.”
Gotch tells me she’ll also continue advocacy through her new Girlboss podcast, Jen Gotch Is OK… Sometimes, which, while not a mental health podcast per se, will cover a lot of ground in that arena. “It’s about building a business and a brand, but I did that while suffering from bipolar disorder and anxiety and ADD,” she explains. “Everything I do is run through that filter.”
Or, no filter at all, you could say. When I tell Gotch that her approach is one that I, personally, have been discouraged from adopting so as not to scare off future employers with real talk about my depression on social media, she’s disheartened. “That makes me want to cry,” she says. “But if someone doesn’t want to hire you because of that, would you want to work there anyway?”
Honestly, no. And hopefully, all workplaces will, like Ban.do, eventually encourage open talk while also distributing weighted blankets to employees. (True story!) In the meantime, there’s always “the flu”… and BYO blankie.
Don’t yet have a ratings system in place to notify others of your needs? This app lets you send a mental health SOS without saying a word. Plus, knowledge is power—here are 6 myths about depression, busted.
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