So what does it feel like to be outside of that ‘winner’s enclosure’ that I made reference to yesterday? How does it affect a person’s sense of self-worth, the sense of who they are? This is partly a rhetorical question, but also one that invites an answer. One of the problems with mental ill health in the corporate environment is that nobody really wants to talk about it – which in many ways is the crux of the problem. In other words, if people were prepared to talk about the way they feel, especially those at the ‘top’, then perhaps they wouldn’t feel so bad in the first place.
However, and this is where the problems really start, that admission may not go down too well with a lot of people: employees and shareholders to mention but two. However sympathetic people may be on a personal level, and often they are, the corporate world doesn’t like people being too honest when it comes to talking about their mental health.
One of the core values of any organisation is rationality. Organisations aim to be rational, at least in the eyes of their key stakeholders. The fact that beneath this rational surface lies something very different is another issue. Another way of saying this is that people who work in organisations, whatever their position, are expected to be able to account for their actions – and to do this in a rational manner, i.e. in a manner that makes sense to those they are accountable to.
Admitting to having a mental health problem is, unfortunately, often construed as a sign that a person’s capacity to think and act rationality has become compromised. This is somewhat ironic as being excessively rational is often a symptom of severe mental illness, e.g. as in cases of paranoia. Perhaps the caveat to all this that we are talking about a particular type, or more accurately, context, of rationality: what makes ‘sense’ within a particular organisational setting.
So if a particular individual – and especially one in a senior position, starts to express doubts about their capacity to carry on in that role, and even starts to question why they are doing it in the first place, then they are in deep trouble. And, of course, on a practical level they are also likely to be in trouble: it simply isn’t possible to function properly if you are deeply depressed, highly anxious all the time. This then becomes a vicious circle because then you start to worry what would happen if other people realised you were feeling like this, especially those who pay your wages. And so you try and cover this up, which, needless to say, just makes things worse.
The idea of a ‘winner’s enclosure’ is, in my view, a useful metaphor. Enclosures exclude as much as they include. They define who is ‘out’ as well as who is ‘in’. They provide, amongst other things, the criteria for exclusion and inclusion. And one of the criteria for inclusion is to be psychologically strong….