Startup Advice

How Atlassian employee Tyler Smith started a discussion about mental illness in his workplace

Dinushi Dias /

Twenty-four-year old Tyler Smith works for multibillion-dollar tech giant Atlassian. He also happens to suffer from three psychological disorders: Bipolar II, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and anxiety.

In a recent blog post for Atlassian, Smith discusses what it’s like working for one of Australia’s most successful tech companies as someone who experiences mental health issues.

“According to reports by the World Health Organisation, one in four people in the world have suffered, will suffer, or are currently suffering from mental health issues. I am one of those people, albeit an outspoken one,” Smith says.

Applying this statistic to his workplace, Smith says as many as 500 of Atlassian’s 2000-strong workforce “have, are, or will suffer from some kind of mental health issue”.

“Turns out, people like me are the people that you work with every day,” says Smith.

Smith says people who experience mental health issues can struggle to hold down jobs, especially without support and awareness in the workplace.

“I’m lucky enough to work with people who not only tolerate the unpredictability that goes with my disorders, but actively try to support me,” he says.

But being in a workplace where the topics of sexuality, race, gender and mental health are not “quashed”, Smith says he has felt comfortable about sharing his experience “without fear”.

“So I started a discussion within the company,” he says.

“I wrote about my mental health, and how it affects me on a day-to-day basis … The ‘simple’ act of trusting them and being vulnerable with them had the effect of them trusting me more.

“That creates an incredible place for a sufferer  —  both to be understood, and to have a platform for talking about it with others.”

Smith, who was diagnosed nearly five years ago, says he cycles through “up” and “down” days.

“The only way I can describe it accurately is like this: it’s emotional amplification,” he says.

“Imagine feeling everything you feel on a daily basis, just three times as intensely.

“All the joy and happiness are amazing. But then the anger, agitation, even apathy and sympathy are also being amplified. That’s how an ‘up’ day feels.

“Anxiety is a little bit easier to describe as it’s something that most people have felt, albeit to a lesser extent than someone suffering with an anxiety disorder. If you’ve ever felt worried about something to the point you’ve had a lump in your throat, or it’s all you can seem to think about, you’ve seen anxiety.”

With Seasonal Affective Disorder, Smith says it affects him from mid-Autumn to mid-Spring when the “days are darker and colder”.

“When I’m in a ‘down’ cycle, or experiencing the effects of SAD [Seasonal Affective Disorder] or heightened anxiety, I don’t really want to talk to people,” he says.

“As a team, we’ve found reasonable ways to cope with this. And just knowing that my teammates understand that I may respond in very different ways on different days is an immense help to my mental state.

“My teammates in other offices will take over any work they can, but the social aspect is something I still need to navigate myself, and being able to call upon colleagues in the wider Atlassian team is invaluable.”

To people at other startups and workplaces who know a colleague is experiencing mental illness, Smith’s advice is to “be there without pressure”.

He also encourages people experiencing mental health issues to seek professional help.

“There are people far more qualified than your peers,” he says.

“The subject of mental illness is being de-stigmatised by the day, and there is absolutely no shame in needing or seeking help from a professional.

“I consider it, to this day, the best thing I did for my own life.”

If you or someone you know is living with mental health issues, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636. 

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Dinushi Dias

Dinushi Dias is a freelance journalist and a former StartupSmart reporter and multimedia content producer. She is the co-founder of Melbourne-based production house Dinushi & Power.

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