World Bipolar Day: The Bipolar Businessman Interview
Today (30th March 2019) is World Bipolar Day!
Through international collaboration, the goal of World Bipolar Day is to bring the world population information about bipolar disorders that will educate and improve sensitivity towards the illness and eliminate social stigma.
Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe and different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through from time to time. It is estimated that the global prevalence of bipolar disorder is between 1 and 2% and has been said to be as high as 5% and, according to the World Health Organisation, is the 6th leading case of disability in the world.
World Bipolar Day is celebrated each year on March 30th, the birthday of Vincent Van Gogh, who was posthumously diagnosed as probably having bipolar disorder.
In celebration of this awareness day we talked to Thomas Duncan Bell, entrepreneur and successful business owner, Thomas was diagnosed with a form of Bipolar around the age of 21/22. Thomas also runs a popular blog he started in 2016 called The Bipolar Businessman in which he pens personal stories and opinion articles on a huge range of mental health topics and current news.
We love his honest and refreshing approach, not afraid to call a spade a spade, Thomas gives us an absorbing insight into his thoughts on mental health and mental ill health. Enjoy!
Hi Thomas! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
For the past 14 years I’ve been an SME & FTSE 500 consultant. I specialise in creative commercial thinking, so in essence, I help brands and companies better understand how to drive sales, be more human in their approach to how they run their ship and get customers to care about them because of how they interact and approach their audience.
I also run a dog product company with probably the largest social media following of any independent dog brand in the UK. The company is called K9 CREW and we have around 63 staff who are all disabled in some way and manufacturing the products primarily by hand to ensure quality. Very exciting job and I love animals of any kind so that’s always a bonus.
As I suffer from a form of Bipolar Disorder, I started speaking out about my condition in 2016 when there were a distinct lack of men coming forward. Shortly afterwards I launched my blog, The Bipolar Businessman, and since then I’ve had all sorts of interest and written articles for magazines, businesses, filmed all over the place, done all sorts of key note speeches and judged awards, even winning a few myself.
I’m also the primary mental health commentator at The Institute of Directors so I judge their IoD Awards every year and I’m also speaking at all of their Open House Events around the country this year with a focus on Mental Health and Diversity.
I’m a very busy boy!
Over the past 3 years you have reached 1 million people through your blog, The Bipolar Businessman, and various other medias such as keynote speaking. How do you feel about this achievement and what inspires you to expand your reach?
What this means for me is that my energy has not been wasted. It means that in my own unique way of presenting my story or speaking to people, the energy is sinking in. My primary focus as a speaker is to create a mindset shift. I hate too many sob stories and I’m certainly not Richard Branson successful, but I don’t suffer fools gladly and I’m very candid, open and honest about my experiences and the issue faced in our society. I think this is why my message is getting through because people resonate with the things I speak about, that others wouldn’t say… Don’t get me wrong, there are still many who would turn their nose up at my approach, but they’re normally terribly boring and snobbish individuals so I don’t pay too much heed to that. People who are switched on and who understand that big change is needed in businesses will support me and that’s the main thing.
Tell us something that people admire about you.
Wow… This could almost be a loaded question if I was overly narcissistic. 😊 As I mentioned above, I think people just want honesty and frankly, I don’t care if you’re a multi-millionaire or you live on the streets, I treat everyone as a human being. I think people would probably tell you that their favourite phrase of mine is: “You can have all the money in the world but if you act like a dick, you’re still a dick!” and that is why I cut through the stigma. Because I don’t subscribe to social protocol, I don’t allow the vanity of others to make me feel uncomfortable or awkward. And it’s that element of my personality that means I can stand up and fight for others when they can’t find the strength within themselves.
What does the term ‘mental health’ mean to you?
It means a whole world of things, but ultimately it means being happy and to be free. When my work becomes flexible, when I get to be creative and when I spend as much time with my young son as I please, then I will have found true mental health.
We all need to keep it in check every day, everyone’s just living on a varied degree of anxiety across the board, so it’s not 1 in 4 who suffer it’s everyone. Life is fundamentally very sh*t for the most part, because we have to work and we’re burdened by societal hierarchy not by free will and we all have to accept that this is the sphere that media and capitalism has created for us… but as much as you have to accept that that’s where society stands, you don’t have to live within that sphere. You can create your own and simply orbit it.
If we continue to value money and power as indicative of success, then we will fail as a whole… If we realise as a wider world populace that living is about feeling and caring about one another, then things will change dramatically.
What do you think is key to help reduce stigma and encourage more people to talk about their mental health and / or ill health?
Firstly, every company should have a mental health policy by law, but they should also translate that policy not just through their staff but into their customers.
The biggest issue with breaking down stigma is that the majority of the fat cats running the show, don’t care… Until more major CEO’s come forward and are honest about their issues faced daily, without having to fear the loss of their jobs or the wealthier among them chastising them, then the better the global economy will be as a whole.
But there are so many factors that attribute to mental ill health, from race, to sexuality, disability, addiction and the core extremities like the Bipolar or PTSD sufferers… it’s going to take an awfully big wave of change to make a dent, but if someone like me can reach 1million+ people then anyone can if they’re tenacious. Things will change, but we need to get rid of a lot of negative in our society surrounding all sorts of areas, from junk food, to cutting out red meat and dairy, to company infrastructure, to less vanity on social media, to press, it’s a whole minefield of crap upon crap that’s just debilitating peoples personal wellbeing, from their bodies to their minds and it’s so indoctrinated into how we live, that people think you’re a conspiracy theorist or a hippie if you talk about it.
On World Bipolar Day, what would do you think is key to raising awareness on this subject? Do you have any common myth busters or FAQ from your speaking gigs?
One of my most successful pieces of speaking has been based around what I call “The Bipolar Benefits” – In business now days people often don’t hire you if you have issues surrounding mental health. Also people are afraid to talk about their issues when coming into a business.
People constantly ask me, “should I mention my mental health issues to my employer or during an interview for a new role?”
This is still a tricky topic. Because in certain industries they are still way behind.
Women have issue with employment in some industries because they don’t want people coming in and then leaving to have a baby. It’s the same with mental health, they don’t want you coming in and then getting anxious or upset at random and then having time off.
So, my rule of thumb is this:
If you’re in a current role then I would talk to HR about your options if you’re feeling run down. A company can more quickly kick you to the curb if you’re taking lots of sick days, than they can if you take time off because you have an anxiety attack or you’re really struggling with depression. But don’t let that define you. I always find if you excel beyond your colleagues then it’s the end gain that the employer notices and the rest will fall by the wayside.
I always focussed on being the best that I could be at whatever I turned my hand to, and when you’re kicking arse and taking names, people tend not to get in your way they just help you cultivate that drive.
And on the interview front. I’d generally not mention it in your interviews for a new job. But draw on what makes you different.
With my issues I generally have a number of skills that I’d bring up in interviews: I’ve got a higher than average IQ, I work extremely fast and am a very quick commercial thinker, I see opportunities, partnerships, connections in people that no one else would ever see and I’m candid, so stuff gets done fast and without any falsity.
So, I don’t need to say how upset I am, or how depression and anxiety debilitates a part of me, because I hold all of the above “Bipolar Benefits” and I can usually produce the same work level in one week that it takes the average full time employee to manage in a month.
Never start with anything that could be considered a negative, we all have attributes and we should own them!
How do you support your own mental health day to day? What would you say to someone who is currently struggling day to day? Any wellbeing tips?
I listen to a lot of music, I have 3 dogs so I walk with them a lot. The trick is to find something to control your mindset. If you don’t have any hobbies or you sit at home, then you’re going to struggle. I still struggle being alone in my own mind, that’s an issue I will probably always face. And although I am not religious by any stretch, the saying “the devil makes work for idle hands” is most definitely true in me and many of those who I consider close. You’re more likely to drink or find other ways to self-medicate and drag yourself down if you don’t have any interests.
Life is about evolving ourselves as individuals, so if you love a good book then drift away, if you’re not socially anxious then join a club! If you’re not sporty then there are a million other things to do and if you hate your job then either change it or use the wages to drive something that you do want to do.
We can’t expect others to help us for the most part, everyone’s riding this wave and struggling for themselves. We have to draw everything from deep down within us and find a little part of ourselves that gives us strength. Then we use that strength to get ourselves off our arse and to achieve something! It doesn’t matter if your strength only means that you’re able to make your own bed, making your own bed is the first step to achieving a whole manner of tasks every day. No task completed is a trivial one, they all lead to a sense of pride and enable you to do more with your life.
What does the term ‘recovery’ mean to you?
Recovery is something that I believe to be unlikely for someone like me… There’s not much point in me focussing on an end gain that’s frankly unachievable. Anyone who’s suffered any kind of mental health issue will always be “in recovery” but never truly recovered because what put them in that space will always be there.
The trick is to educate yourself in how you work as an individual, learn new things and find out as much as you can about what makes you tick. We are always asking people how they feel, friends, family etc. but we never truly take the time to ask ourselves what we want out of life.
You may never completely recover from what’s befallen you, but you can be happy… that’s the route we should be aiming for, understanding enough that we can all be just a little bit happier every day. And eventually those happy moments will get longer and you’ll barely feel the negative and when you do, you’ll be able to channel that energy and get rid of it.
Parents these days are confronted by the dizzying pace at which the world is changing – not just technologically, but socially too, in turn affecting our mental health. What would you want to see change to ensure better mental health for your children?
Ultimately we love spending money on a good cause in the UK. If you’ve got PTSD, Bipolar, a disability, cancer etc. then there are no end of charities to help put a band aid on the issue.
That said, the biggest issue for mental health in the UK and Internationally is that there’s not enough research into mental health and how it’s caused inherently.
If we did more work with kids and in schools at a younger level; instead of teaching everyone how to pass exams, we just taught them how to be human and we tried to adapt our approach to learning from and teaching kids how to operate without anxiety, a lot of which fundamentally stems from your home life and then later your work life, then we’d evolve to rectify the issue faster.
Here’s another conspiracy theory for you… why don’t pharmaceutical companies want mental health issues to end? Because next to cancer that’s probably where they make some of the most sizeable income on production of medication… but over 45% of mental health issues are onset, off the back of people working lifestyles, so if we invested in rehabilitation of the mind and not just numbing the issue with medication then that would rid the UK of nearly half the people who suffer daily…
It’s not all about the pharma though, there are a range of factors, but ultimately unless some big businesses come along and decide to do lots of R&D on where mental health comes from then there will always be doctors shelling out the quick fix but it doesn’t offer us an ultimate remedy.
Parents need to understand that we have an extremely huge effect on our children, what you think that they miss, they don’t. So we need to be conscious to keep them off the iPad and get them off their arse and into nature. We need to train them to understand that the measure of a human being is in their heart and nature, it’s not based on who’s got the best paid of trainers for gym class. If we all focus on that and help them be healthier in their own skin then they will supersede our ambitions and become decent human beings and surely that’s all any parent can hope for.
Here at Be Empowered, we work primarily within workplaces, delivering Mental Health First Aid and awareness courses. From your personal experiences and as a businessman what do you think our workplace culture needs to improve employee mental health and wellbeing?
Working environments need to accept that the longer we keep people in their little business silo’s where marketing interact with marketing, IT, interact with IT, then the longer it will take for your company to be productive. I talk a lot about the ROI in changing mindset and it’s so fundamentally true.
If you create a link between departments, if you have inclusive activity days where people can mingle and get to know each other then you will have a deeper bond across your organisation and fundamentally the company will make more money and be more productive because people care about each other on a genuine level and are happier.
And anyone who thinks that’s fluff is ultimately wrong, because averagely when you employ the right mental health initiatives you can see up to 30% increase in productivity and any CEO who doesn’t believe that 30% uplift in productivity will affect their bottom line, frankly doesn’t know what they’re talking about!
Who / what inspires you in your life and at work?
I work with many people in the mental health space who are inspiring. But what most inspires me, without wishing to pile on a shed load of cheese, is helping others to change.
The biggest change in me and for my mental health has come since I’ve been speaking about my issues and my journey. People have literally told me I’ve saved their life, or helped them realise who they truly are inside, or helped them gain a better relationship with their son or daughter… no amount of money will ever give me more satisfaction than hearing those people speak to me about how they felt for what I’d done.
So, I guess the answer in reality is that what drags me down in society and the world we live in, is made up for in how inspired I am by those “seemingly insignificant” individuals who deserve every bit as much happiness and change as the next guy… It helps me stay humble and it helps me know that I am doing good.
So if you have the bravery to talk about your issues, you might just save a life and surely that makes everything worth it.
Finally, what is on the horizon for you and your work?
I’ve got all the IoD Open House events kicking off around the country from May this year. I’m speaking at the Houses of Parliament in May, also on a mental health panel. I’ve just got a speaker agent this year, so hopefully that will make my work in mental health more sustainable as I’ve funded everything myself since day 1 and it costs a fortune travelling around, especially donating 100% of everything I’ve earned to my charities. And I’m writing a book currently which has some interest from a mental health publisher so keeping my fingers crossed for that. Other than that there are lots of business bits that I won’t bore you with, but if I pull off some of those and succeed with where I want to be financially then I want to set up an organisation to invest in entrepreneurs with mental health issues who other people might otherwise side-line and I want to coach them through the process of growing their own crazy businesses so that they can be free and happy and we can all have lots of fun! Stay tuned and lets see how that goes!
Evidence suggest that affirmations can help people with their own wellbeing. At Be Empowered we believe in using affirmations to harness positive thinking. What do you think is a great positive affirmation that you might use daily?
Whenever I have a dark day, or I feel negative or worthless to some degree I use my son for positive affirmation.
The phone goes in the desk and the computer goes off and I envelop myself in everything that is involved in making him smile and laugh and within a few hours there’s a tremendous sense of calm inside me. I know that I’m human, I know that I’m a good human being and I feel at peace.
It’s our routine affirmations that we create for ourselves that drive a happier mindset.
But if you don’t have kids or animals, then go and tell someone else their hair looks nice or find a little piece of someone that inspires you and tell them. They’ll never expect it and the response will fill you with positivity.
Don’t expect anything back, just do something because it’s good.
Here is Thomas talking about the stigma of Bipolar for HeadTalks:
Huge thank you to the inspiring Thomas Duncan Bell for taking the time out to talk to us! We look forward to keeping up to date with all his future projects…and you can too…
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