CEO Indigo Triplett, a graduate of our doctoral program in values-driven leadership, was startled to get the message in the mail: the insurance company she’d used for years was now denying her coverage because of recent treatment for bipolar disorder.
“That was a wake up call for me that you take a risk when you seek help,” says Triplett. (For more on her experience, see Dueling Dragons: One CEO’s Journey with Bipolar Disorder, which includes an excerpt from Triplet’s recently published book.)
Since receiving her diagnosis, pursuing treatment, and speaking openly about her own experiences, Triplett has found in her own story and the stories of others more risks associated with mental illness. It can stand in the way of career advancement (the industry in which she is a specialist, as the founder of Careers In Transition, a Georgia-based human resources agency), personal happiness, financial stability, family security, and overall health. These risks can make it difficult for anyone to seek the help they need.
To help people move toward a place of well-being, Triplett recently founded a nonprofit, Indigo Insights, that provides coaching for people facing a mental health diagnosis or life crisis. While not designed to replace medication or therapy, the coaching services can be a first step to getting the help people need, or a more comprehensive approach to whole-person wellness.
Finding the Underlying Issues
Not long ago, a young man approached Triplett after she spoke at a career event. Through conversation, Triplett realized many of the man’s concerns, including having difficulty finding a job, stemmed from his mental health challenges. He was bipolar.
“We spoke about how he was beating himself up over his mistakes,” Triplett recalls. “I spoke with him about the importance of forgiving himself. He had to stop obsessing over past mistakes at other jobs.”
The man was blaming his resume for his failures, but Triplett recognized another obstacle: the man’s own mental health. As he began working with the coaches at Indigo Insights, the man engaged in “homework assignments,” including journaling about his negative thoughts and attending professional networking events, which he could in turn discuss with his coach. Triplett and her team pushed him to consider what made him think he was not worthy of the life he wants.
“We don’t take the place of psychiatrists or therapists,” Triplett is quick to acknowledge. “I’m not a practitioner, I’m a coach. People may get in touch with me because they aren’t comfortable going to a professional yet. They just want to be able to talk to someone.” Indigo Insight’s coaches refer to mental health practitioners, making sure the client gets the help they need.
What Triplett believes sets her coaches a part is their own experience with mental health challenges; all the coaches have experienced mental illness personally, or in the life of a family member. “So often, our coaches can say, ‘Are you feeling this way?’ and the person responds, ‘That’s exactly how I’m feeling right now.’”
Creating the Factors Necessary for Wellness
Between one in four or one in five Americans experience a mental illness. Include the impact this has on families and workplaces, and it is hard to imagine a single individual not touched by the challenges of mental health. For those who live or work with someone who has a mental illness, Triplett offers a word of advice.
“The best thing you can do is to learn as much as you can about their situation,” she says. “People are so often told, ‘Oh, you’ll be fine.’ But it’s not a matter of being fine when there are chemical changes in your brain. You can’t just tell someone to ‘shake it off.’ For that person, it’s very dark. It’s hard to understand unless you’ve done your research.”
She also believes that the integrated approach to mental health that has worked for her will be useful for others as well. Triplett’s regimen includes medication, acupuncture, counseling, and mindfulness practices.
Triplett says she hears people say they’ve tried various approaches, none of which have worked. “When I ask if they’ve ever tried it together, they haven’t. They drop one and move to the other.” She believes a more integrated approach, that creates space for addressing other life challenges like the need for exercise or career obstacles, works well because it cares for the whole person. “There isn’t a one-size fits all plan. It can’t just be medication; almost always, a combination is required: medication, spirituality, exercise, career counseling, and nutrition.”
Two years after her own diagnosis, Triplett is healthy, stable, leading a successful company, and now helping others through her nonprofit. It all pushes her toward a bigger vision she has for the future, one in which people with mental health do not see speaking about their illness as a risky behavior that might jeopardize their careers, families, or their insurance coverage, as it did for Triplett.
“I remember when it was shameful to admit you had breast cancer. You kept it quiet. Now we wear our pink ribbons, people walk for it, we talk about being survivors. I want that for mental health,” Triplett explains. “I want people to talk about being a survivor of bipolar disorder or depression. I want them to seek treatment and to feel normal for doing that because it is a function of their brain. No more shame, no more stigma.”
Through sharing her own story and marshaling a team of experienced coaches, Triplett is helping make that future possible.
For leaders and others looking for additional information in bipolar disorder, please see www.recovery.org.
Amber Johnson is the Chief Communications Officer for the Center for Values-Driven Leadership.