"Suffering in silence is such a hard thing to bare and generates self-stigmatisation."

Mental health at work
KatarzynaBialasiewicz
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Colin Minto is the founder of APeopleBusiness, a new organisation set up to celebrate the capabilities, skills and contribution of people with mental difference in the workplace, and equipping organisations, leaders and colleagues to ‘open up’ and harness the productivity it brings. Colin set up the business after 'going public' with his struggles with OCD following a very successful career culminating as Group Head of Resourcing and HR Systems with security firm G4S. 

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What gave you the courage to 'go public' about your OCD?

Colin Minto, Founder, APeopleBusiness: I wouldn’t call it courage because it was a number of things that came together into what I would call me finding my calling.

First of all, suffering in silence is such a hard thing to bare and generates self stigmatisation.

I suffered in silence for effectively 34 years! The inability to talk and be accepted compounds the issue which manifests itself in poorer mental health.

Secondly I have had a successful career but I saw many programmes and examples of others who had been effectively overlooked in the job market because of their mental difference.

This is just so wrong when mental difference actually creates unique skill sets and capabilities.

Thirdly, my Dad finally succumbed to his Parkinson’s and needed to go into permanent care.

This exposed me to so many wonderful people who have provided so much contribution and love to the world but due to their developing mental difference, they have had this opportunity snatched away from them.

It’s so unfair and humbling. Finally I am my own boss now so I felt ‘opening up’ would not have as much impact on me compared to me being employed.

I know by ‘opening up’ myself that I should have done it years ago because the support and love that has been shared with me has been uncomprehendable!

So a combination of things that came together over time to make me an activist to champion mental difference in the workplace, starting with me going public to start telling my story.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What has been the response since you went public? Any particular interactions that stand out for you?

Colin Minto, Founder, APeopleBusiness: The response has been unbelievable, overwhelming and extremely motivating.

Senior ex colleagues, friends and people I have never met before, in turn ‘opened up’ to me.

I learned that so many people I hid my mental difference from were hiding their from me too.

I have had to diversify fully away from my core resourcing and HR strategy transformation and delivery consultancy to focus fully on mental difference / wellbeing strategy consulting for major global corporates through my new company.

I suppose I took my mind to the mental gym more frequently than others and worked it out to an optimum level.

I didn’t ask for this but I am heralded by others as an authority on the subject because of my intimate mental health experience, senior and global HR background and consulting career.

Baroness Janet Royall of Blaisdon includes me at every DRIVE meeting she holds at the House of Lords to speak and contribute on matters of mental health. Companies engage me to talk to their workforces to support their businesses and colleagues to open up on the subject.

Fortune 100 and FTSE 100 business and HR leaders want me to discuss aligning their mental wellbeing strategies, with their general wellbeing, people and business strategies to optimise the productivity of their workers and most importantly, people with intimate mental health experience confide in me for mutual conversation and support.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: How did your mental health struggles present out in the workplace? If you were able to keep it totally hidden, how did it affect your workplace journey personally?

Colin Minto, Founder, APeopleBusiness: Well, I tried to not let it affect me in the workplace but of course it did. Yes I hid it but it didn’t stop me spending hours away from my desk and duties at times, ruminating in toilet cubicles about the things I was panicking about at the time.

However, I recognised this so worked longer hours to ensure I didn’t underperform at work and my appraisals and rise through the ranks over the years suggest I achieved this.

On the flip side, panicking about potentially dying from every disease known to humanity, accidentally and deliberately killing or harming people and anything else that could demonstrably impact on my freedom or longevity on this planet, along with the associated compulsions and ruminations to try to solve these issues in my head has turned me into an expert problem solver and solutions provider.

I suppose I took my mind to the mental gym more frequently than others and worked it out to an optimum level. I also have an extremely active risk radar which serves me well in business as it enables me to dig a layer deeper in risk workshops and processes.

I can proofread other people’s work for Britain and have been told on numerous occasions that I have scared them with my attention to detail. I am also very orderly as you would expect. Finally many have remarked that I have the highest moral compass of anyone they have met.

I think this is because I desperately don’t want to be the person my illness would have me believe I am, so I work hard to be the best person I can be.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: We've been talking about killing the stigma for years. We're not there yet. What needs to happen to make this work?

Colin Minto, Founder, APeopleBusiness: Mental health stigma is an interesting one because I think much of it is self-inflicted.

I know by ‘opening up’ myself that I should have done it years ago because the support and love that has been shared with me has been uncomprehendable! I didn’t because I thought it would be detrimental to do so. No one ever told me it would be detrimental to do so.

Also, I don’t believe the one in four ratio [people who have mental health concerns] that we regularly hear about. From experience of talking in small and large groups I would suggest it’s at the very least two in four, perhaps three.

This is the amount of people mental difference touches both personally or intimately.

People with mental, or any form of difference, have skills, capabilities and qualities that many others don’t possess.

People ‘open up’ to me wherever I am about themselves or their loved ones or friends, which is why I think so many people, including businesses just want to get this one out in the open, tackle it and reap the rewards for doing the right thing, helping those they love and work with and ensuring the working environment is optimal for achieving 100% productivity.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: We need more personal stories of mental health. Your struggles have clearly caused you to suffer, but are there any positives? How has it made you a better person, in life and specifically in business?

Colin Minto, Founder, APeopleBusiness: I answered this above so let me talk about others.

If we took time out to map the skills and capabilities different people with different mental difference have, we will see that mental difference is vital to solving businesses challenges and contributing to business success.

I have so many conversations about people in certain roles and job types being on some form of spectrum, and it’s true. I use the example of Usain Bolt and Mo Farah.

Physiologically and mentally different to everyone else in the world, which is why they beat everyone else in the world in their chosen endeavours. It’s no different to people with mental difference.

Reasonable adjustments would invariably need to be made, but we need to get over this issue that people need to ‘fit’ into the business.

People with mental, or any form of difference, have skills, capabilities and qualities that many others don’t possess.

If we were to structure our roles based on skill and capability requirements only, rather than some of the superficial ‘fit’ elements, then map this to the skills of everyone, no matter the difference, we would achieve better hiring outcomes.

Yes, reasonable adjustments would invariably need to be made, but we need to get over this issue that people need to ‘fit’ into the business. Why can’t the business accommodate and fit itself around the talent it needs to do the best job and achieve the best outcomes?

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What advice would you give to a senior male employee worried that highlighting a mental health condition would threaten his career?

Colin Minto, Founder, APeopleBusiness: I’d love to say to anyone; male, female, senior and junior, to ‘open up’ and tell your story to your colleagues, wider business and the global business community, but I know the challenges associated with doing so, so it would be wrong to do so.

First of all I would recommend they make peace with their illness and become comfortable with what they have and that it brings negatives but some tremendous positives when looked at objectively.

Then I would try to understand the temperature for the conversation in the business and what strategy and support is available for people who do have mental difference in their organisation.

At this stage they will establish at what stage their business is at for embracing, harnessing and supporting difference and how comfortable they then will be to get involved personally.

They can reach out to me on the Mental Health in Business LinkedIn Group or join the Mental Difference at Work Rungway Community to join others and build their knowledge and confidence.

They can join the growing movement of people that can finally bring their whole selves to work as their employers recognise mental difference is just part of life and business.

Businesses can leverage the ENABLE Mental Difference Model to achieve excellence in the space.

About Jamie Lawrence

Jamie Lawrence, HRZone

Jamie Lawrence is editor of global online HR publication and community HRZone.com. He is committed to driving forward the HR agenda and making sure that HR directors have the knowledge and insight necessary to make HR felt across the whole organisation. He regularly speaks to audiences of 250+ and has interviewed key HR industry names, including Daniel H. Pink. He has worked previously as a small business journalist and a copywriter and has published non-fiction that reached #2 on the NYT Children's Bestseller List. In his spare time Jamie likes writing fiction, films, fitness and eating out.

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