Katherine Switz was diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychosis following her first psychotic break, which occurred while attending Harvard Business School. Her second break was just weeks into her new marriage.
Although Katherine learned to successfully manage her mental health condition, enjoying a 20-year career in international development, she was terrified to speak publicly about her condition. Only her family and close friends knew. She especially kept her condition—and the steps she had to take to manage it—from her workplace colleagues, except for a few accommodating bosses.
Over time, she became particularly aware of how fear and secrecy surrounding mental health keep people from getting the care they need. She became convinced that people in the workforce who were successfully living with mental health conditions could lead the way in helping to transform shame, isolation and discrimination into openness, support and equity.
So in 2013, Katherine took a leap of faith and started The Stability Network, a rapidly growing nationwide community of people in the workforce who are successfully living with mental health conditions and sharing their experiences to help create a society where “no one will fear discrimination for suffering from a mental illness and everyone who needs care will receive it.”
As The Stability Network’s website proudly proclaims, their advocates—including people such as Christina Sparrock— are “living proof you can thrive with a mental health condition.”
Dedicated to ending discrimination
Christina, a business development consultant and mental health advocate based in New York City, begins her advocacy presentations this way:
I am a CPA and a Certified Fraud Examiner. I serve on the city’s crisis intervention panel, where NYC police officers are trained on de-escalation techniques and crisis communication skills. I sit on Mayor De Blasio’s Advisory Group of the Task Force on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System.
I am also someone managing mental health conditions: bipolar disorder, severe anxiety and PTSD with suicidal ideations.
Then, she asks this powerful question:
How do you make sense of a successful working person who is also managing mental health conditions?
With this question, Christina quickly engages her audiences and goes on to share her personal story: growing up in an abusive environment that exacerbated her conditions, combating bullying and discrimination, and ultimately finding the strength to discover that ongoing recovery was possible … with the right combination of medications, therapy, support and healthy life choices.
“Rising above adversity is what I do well,” says Christina. “Having a mental health condition is like being a boxer who’s fighting each round vigorously … then stumbles … then recovers and regroups. With my background—being told repeatedly I wouldn’t amount to anything, then facing discrimination because of my condition—I’ve been advocating all my life.”
As someone who has suffered on-the-job discrimination due to her mental health condition, Christina is passionate about helping others understand the impact negative attitudes about mental illness can have.
To help her focus her story on this advocacy goal, Christina used the exercises in Living Proof, particularly the exercises for “pointing to the positive.”
“People need to know the pain and hurt that I and others have experienced—but they need to know where I am now and what’s possible moving forward,” says Christina. “I don’t want anybody to suffer the way I did. So I ask others to join me in imagining a day when people can share their diagnoses without fear of retaliation or discrimination. That’s the positive I’m pointing toward. Because mental health conditions are just that … health conditions.”
Read more about The Stability Network.