Founder, LeaderBoard; Founder and CEO, FormScore
Living with bipolar 2 disorder

Rob Stephenson is an influential mental health campaigner and keynote speaker, passionate about inspiring the creation of mentally healthier workplaces and societies. He is fighting for workplaces where people can put their hands up and say “Hey, I’m struggling with mental ill-health”. Rob envisions workplaces where everybody can prioritize their wellbeing and feel equipped and have permission to do so. Rob is also the Founder and CEO of FormScore, and Founder of the InsideOut LeaderBoard.

Rob’s Story

Briefly, how has your condition impacted your life? When were you first aware of it?  What was your most difficult time? 

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 health condition.

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. And 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.

What is your life like now? What does success/living well look like for you?

Sharing my story helped me find my purpose as a mental health campaigner, to inspire the creation of mentally healthier workplaces and societies. At the core of my work 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.

I am also an avid believer that being intentional about our wellbeing can help us thrive more often. I believe that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and I have it within me to thrive. I have it within you to be well. I have everything I need, right here, with me.

What help or specific strategies helped you to get well and move to stability?    

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, is what helps me stay well. However, due to the stigma of mental health conditions 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. And 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.

What do you do to manage your condition and stay healthy on an ongoing basis?

To stay well I prioritize exercise, sleep, and social connections, alongside medication and therapy. I also use the FormScore app, which 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.

Are there positives that have come from having a mental health condition? If so, what?

There are elements of my cycle that I would term a superpower: an unstoppable drive, hyper-creativity, no fear of failure, and an ability to attempt the difficult or impossible. On the flip side, there is the huge cost of these positives in terms of the depression, the risk-taking, and the lows. However, it’s a price that I am more than willing to pay for what my mental uniqueness gives me.

How has your condition impacted your work and your career? 

At times, bipolar has certainly held me back with the depression making life hard to bear at times, and the mania leading to some pretty questionable decisions, business ventures and projects. My life has been intertwined with coming to terms with who I am, and the impact of these extremes on my career, my family and myself.

However, bipolar has also played a part in some of my most significant successes and achievements and influenced my ability to challenge the status quo as a mental health campaigner.

What words of encouragement would you give to someone struggling with a condition similar to yours? 

The main advice that I would give to somebody who’s been diagnosed with bipolar is don’t worry too much about the label. Every person on the planet has swings of mood, and we shouldn’t be too concerned that ours might be a little bit more extreme.

The second piece of advice would be to surround yourself with people who are aware of your condition and who are able to sense-check your decisions when you might be in a state of hypermania. This same support group will also be there for you when you’re feeling low.

Thirdly, it’s great to have a diagnosis, but working with medical professionals to get the necessary support and work out a regime of recovery and management that is effective for you can also be hugely important.

And finally, do enjoy the positives bipolar brings when you’re in that state of balance between the highs and the lows.

Are there resources (books, videos, websites) that helped and/or inspired you that you would recommend to others?

I may be biased but I use FormScore daily to help manage my mental health. This tool has been invaluable to me over the years in helping build up the literacy as to what is driving my mental health.

The app helps me keep track of my 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.

FormScore is designed to solve some fundamental problems around how we think and act about our mental health. We all have the capacity to support each other’s mental wellbeing – FormScore helps us know when to reach out.

It gives us a new language to communicate how we feel with the score out of 10 and a simple means of sharing this score with people we trust.

Our aim is to help people build literacy as to what is driving their mental wellbeing, whilst also inspiring communication, connection, and support amongst our peers.

Is there anything else you want to say/share?

We’ve come a long way in recent years, but as is always the case with mental health, there’s still a way to go. So, we’ll keep sharing our stories, celebrating the fantastic achievements of fellow sufferers, and encouraging others to speak out about their experiences.

Because there’s nothing we can’t do.