Anything to Declare? by Gavin Cooper

People sometimes ask me: “Do you declare your mental health condition at job interviews?”

I have struggled with mental health problems for most of my adult life and have a diagnosis of complex post traumatic disorder, emotional instability disorder and mixed personality disorder. Symptoms I have to manage on a daily basis include mood swings, impulsivity, self-destructive behaviour, dissociation (feeling everything is not real) and problems with addiction.

Maybe not the ideal opening response to “tell us a bit about yourself, Mr Cooper.”

However, the intensity and irrationality that comes from these symptoms is equally matched by creativity, resilience and empathy for others. People with personality disorders can possess an overactive limbic system (the emotional centre of the brain). This can sometime make life seem like being stuck on a rollercoaster with no brakes. Of course this can be unpleasant. But it is this hyper-sensitivity to our surroundings that gives us the ability to find interesting perspectives and an enhanced imaginative capacity that can be released into our creative endeavours. Living through trauma, battling addiction and experiencing internal and external turmoil enables us to have greater insight for others in similar situations. Our creative abilities are not in spite of our mental health conditions – they are because of them.

I was recently interviewed for a scriptwriting commission on the upcoming film On The Borderline, which aims to show the realities of living with borderline personality disorder (BPD). I didn’t just declare my mental health condition – I emphasised it as equipping me with the qualities that have made me the ideal candidate for the job.

We need to move beyond inclusion to celebrating people with mental health conditions in the film industry. Yes, we are different. But it is these differences that give us the lived experience and a creative skills set that cannot be learned in any classroom.

Gavin Cooper is an author, lecturer, public speaker and Director of Derbyshire Mind. Gavin was a brilliant speaker at our British Academy Innovation project Workshop 1 and is on our steering group.

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