This company founder says this is the simple key to being a leader during this insane time

In the last few years more and more companies have been making strides when it comes to employee mental health awareness. There was a 26% increase in the number of organizations offering mental-health coverage, and as of 2019 nearly 90% of companies now offer this benefit, according to a recent report from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

However, nothing could have prepared even the most evolved of companies for the toll a global pandemic would take on employee mental health. Though many people considered remote work to be a high priority previously for some people it is absolutely isolating and destructive to their productivity. On top of actually trying to get work done people are also caring for their children, their partners, sick people, risking their lives every day at their jobs or just dealing with the fact that the world is a very scary place right now. All of that is extremely anxiety-inducing even for a person that has never dealt with anxiety or any sort of mental health issue. The game is completely different now.

But one company leader who has never been shy about her own struggles with mental health is Jen Gotch, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of the 10-year-old lifestyle brand Ban.do and author of the new book, The Upside of Being Down: How Mental Health Struggles Led to My Greatest Successes in Work and Life. She has shared her mental health journeys including diagnosees of ADD, disordered eating and bipolar 2 over the years on her Instagram account which has over 245,000 followers as well as with the media and now in her book. And she believes her mental health status has contributed to her success (hence the title of the book.)

Many of the products the company sells also promote mental health awareness including their best-selling “depression”, “awareness”, and “bipolar” necklaces. She told The LA Times last month, “The idea of being a mental-health advocate was a very strange thing for me to pick up. But the more I realized how seamlessly it was woven into my life of creative entrepreneurship, I wanted to talk about it. The one constant, really, through my whole life, was my brain.”

The book was actually supposed to come out in October but there could not be a better time for it now as everyone from CEOs to interns is trying to navigate their mental health during this extremely confusing and challenging time. Ladders spoke with Gotch about her new book and being a leader during this period.

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In 2018 I set out to write a book about optimism. I wanted to show anyone who got their hands on it that optimism can run alongside some pretty shitty circumstances. Two days ago the book was released into the world in a time where we are all dealing with circumstances that really are the shittiest. Even an optimist can admit that. I pulled some passages from my book and shared them on my stories, but in an effort to give these words more visibility I’ll share some here as well, in hopes that something in them might tip the scales and lead you to a perspective that holds a lot of power in times like these. I want you to have this power. I want your parents, your children, your boss, your teacher to have this power – so share this with them, share this with anyone who will benefit. “The most important thing to understand about optimism is that you are in control. You can choose your perspective. There is so much happening around us that we can’t control, and even more where we might try our best and things still turn out badly, and there’s nothing we can do about it. You can’t control the situation, but you can decide how you react to it. Once you get a handle on that, it’s a really powerful thing.” PS. Thanks @idreamofkelly for the pic. My hair is still longer than yours. Bye

A post shared by Jen Gotch (@jengotch) on

How are you dealing with this new normal and how are your employees dealing with it? 

My old normal wasn’t normal in some ways so I’ve been less disrupted. But my employees are working with more specific disruptions like isolation. It’s really time to ask yourself what you need in any moment and try and define that and also keep yourself as accountable as you can to get up, take a shower, etc., But I am guilty of it too! Yesterday I was going to change out of my pajamas and then it was 5 o’clock and it was like, ‘What’s the point?’

You’ve written a lot about the syndrome of busyness? Do you think this was the ultimate wake up call?

I wrote a lot about this because it’s something that has weighed on me a lot. It is a lesson certainly on what we prioritize and the way we live our lives and it would really have to be something radical to get people to pay attention. As someone who has been through my own emotional pandemic the same things are being presented now, just to a larger group but in a different way. I think I have some clarity.  I’m of the mind of what’s happening now is an opportunity to learn a lot of the lessons we were refusing to learn on how we spend our time. I mean it was basically ‘slow down or else.’ It’s obvious.

How are you leading your company in this time?

I have the unique luxury of having my social media and all the girls follow me at work so it allows me to be in the role of office therapist. We do something at work called Office Hours, where any member of our team can schedule an hour with me to talk about whatever. It can be work or life or anxiety so I may start doing virtual office hours for anybody.

How do leaders lead during this time?

I’ve seen stuff go out at our company and I’ll think ‘I know what you’re trying to do but it’s wrong because how could you communicate that?’ So many of us have been talking about how business would change and how business communication would change and I feel like the door is being cracked open for those of us that know how to do it.

Self-awareness is really the key right now. It’s such a luxury so much of the knowledge on what to do in each situation is already rolling around inside of us, The more you understand about yourself the more you understand about other people.

If I was gonna do something [as a company leader] simply ask yourself, ‘If I were them what would I need and can I give to them right now and if can’t what else can I do?” The beauty of what’s happening right now is that we’re all in the same sh*t show. The book is about optimism and it’s called The Upside of Being Down because it is shining a light on optimism. Optimism doesn’t have to be associated with cheeriness but rather when the optimism is facing things head on and identifying that there’s gonna be loss and struggle but still knowing deep, deep down that it’s going to be OK. There’s nothing about a world pandemic in the book, but each of us felt like there was going to be an end at some point. And that is why you need to be grounded in that optimism.