Spotlight on Rob Stephenson
When I was 30, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Looking back, I can see signs of this condition from my late teens to my 20s. The depression kept me locked away. It made me think I was anti-social and didn't want to be around people. It took me on an emotional rollercoaster, that included highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression), which resulted in making bad decisions and taking uncalculated risks. At the time, I just thought I was different, which I was. It never occurred to me that I might have a mental illness.
As my 30th birthday approached, I was spending an increasing amount of time unable to go to work, unable to do my job, and unable to function. My wonderful boss at the time persuaded me to seek some help in relation to my mental health and it was then I was diagnosed with depression, which later became a Bipolar II diagnosis.
At this time, I experienced a sense of elation, in that, I believed the medical profession could ‘fix me’ by giving me a pill and some therapy. This worked for a while, but six months later, the depression came back with an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness and a sense of futility. After this, my story got a little darker because that loss of hope led me to believe that I would always be in a state of deep depression. When I was 31, I tried to end my life.
With the love of close friends and family, aided by therapy and medication, I learned to manage my condition. I learned that prioritizing exercise, sleep, and social connections, are what helps me stay well. However, due to the stigma of mental illness in our society, I was managing my condition under the radar, with only the closest friends and family knowing about it.
In 2017, after seeing people in the UK being more open about mental health, I decided to share my story. The reaction to that story changed my life. I started to understand how many people experience a mental health challenge but do so in silence because of the stigma. At this point, I became a campaigner, passionate about inspiring the creation of mentally healthier workplaces and societies.
At the core of my work as a campaigner is the InsideOut LeaderBoard, which showcases senior workplace leaders, who are open about the fact that they have a mental health challenge. The result of their openness contributes to normalising the conversation about mental ill-health and smashing the stigma.
The big idea
FormScore is derived from a tool that was given to me by a therapist, many years ago, as a means of tracking how I feel about my mental wellbeing, using a score out of 10. This tool has been invaluable to me over the years in helping build up the literacy as to what is driving my mental health. In 2019 as a campaigner, I decided to start publishing my score on my email signature and LinkedIn profile on a daily basis. The reaction to this was staggering, with people showing support, curiosity, and connection, facilitated by this very simple way of describing how we are feeling.
The reaction inspired me to organically evolve this simple tool into a mobile application that facilitates connection, based on our score. That’s when FormScore was born. The app helps us keep track of our form, connect with trusted colleagues, friends, or family members, and have visibility of each other’s scores. This works as a gentle nudge to connect with each other, celebrate when we are riding high, be there when they are feeling low, and should be needed, encourage them to seek professional support.
The biggest setbacks I have had, have been around me working in jobs where I didn’t have a sense of purpose. I followed a pattern of being reasonably successful at the start and then completely losing interest. Ultimately, I had to change direction to find a career that was more purposeful.
Drive and Determination
I partly believe that my drive and determination comes from the fact that, for years, I suffered from Bipolar in silence because of the stigma of mental illness. When I came out, I realized that so many people were doing the same. However, I also have a deep-rooted drive to prove that I am successful. I have always had this and it is very powerful.
The overarching mission in all that I do right now is to inspire the creation of mentally healthier workplaces and societies where everyone feels they can seek help with mental health and challenge and are equipped to proactively manage their wellbeing.
The biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way
If you are working with a sense of purpose and a worthy mission, there are many people who will be willing to help you if you are prepared to ask them.
Advice for those starting their careers
Invest the time in working out what you will be passionate about doing and find your purpose.
Choose an organisation that aligns with your values.
Give it 100% from the start.
Advice for those who are wanting to start a business
Be very clear on WHY you want to do it.
Test your idea and a broad range of people. Not just those who will say yes to you.
Go for it.
Advice for people aiming for leadership positions
Work on your listening skills – it will stand you in good stead.
Learn to be empathetic and vulnerable.
Advice to someone managing a team
Treat the wellbeing and mental health of your team as one of your greatest assets and nurture it.
Create an open and trusting environment where people can be themselves.
Guard the culture of the team.
The best and worst part of your job
I am fortunate in that I love my job. The best bit is standing on a physical stage delivering a keynote and seeing that I am impacting people and inspiring them to be more intentional about their wellbeing. I also love hearing how my FormScore App is helping people. The worst would be that I am so passionate about my job that I can push myself too hard at times.
To what do you attribute your success
My bipolar brain is one of the reasons, as it can be a superpower at times. I am also prepared to work as hard as it takes to move things forward.
The main project is the FormScore App that helps people be a little bit more intentional about their wellbeing by tracking their “Form” with a score out of ten and connecting with friends, family and colleagues to offer support when required. We are beta testing version 2 at the time of writing and are trialling it in a number of workplaces. We think this has the potential to be a game-changer in how we connect around our wellbeing.
Thank you, Rob, for telling your inspirational story. If you’ve found this blog interesting make sure to connect with Robin on Linkedin and follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Also, be sure to check out FormScore!