Me And My Mentor: Through The Highs And Lows

 

Sydney real estate property manager Bernie Mitchell was diagnosed as bipolar in 1998, but went on to set up a successful business. His mentor is his wife, Sam, and their story proves that business success thrives on love, trust and inspiration as much as facts and figures.

MENTEE: Bernie Mitchell
My heart stopped when I met Sam at a party when I was 17. She’s my best friend. We’re always joking around and we roll with the punches.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1998. I’ve been able to function, but I’ve not always been able to see the future because of it. Sam’s always there to believe in me and I need that because I’ve been so ill. She holds our goals, reminds me of the things I want to achieve, and steers me there.

SEE ALSO: Me and my mentor: Confidence building

There were times with the depression that things were so bad I couldn’t even work full-time. But Sam was there for me and we still pursued our dreams. We’ve been together almost 21 years now.

Sam’s always looking out for my health, which is really important to help me manage my illness. If I’m pushing myself too hard, not getting enough exercise, or eating badly she’ll let me know.

I love the chaos with four kids and I look forward to going home each night. I don’t have the luxury of working crazy hours because of my illness and Sam reminds me of that. I learned my life lessons young, including time management, leaving work at the office and prioritising my family.

I love my work [managing rental properties] because it’s about people, trust and relationships. Sam’s a good judge of character so I go to her for second opinions on people, as I’m too trusting.

There have been tough times with the business and at one point I was ready to quit. Sam was there to remind me why I wanted to build my business and to make me ask myself if I really wanted to walk away from it when we’d always known it was going to be a long-term venture. She’s not the gentle persuader – she’s my reality check.

MENTOR: Samantha Mitchell
Bernie wasn’t ill with bipolar when we met. He’s always been determined to succeed, so I knew he’d get through it.

It was my job to keep him on track.

From day one with his bipolar, I said, “This is something you have to deal with. I’ll support you, but you have to take responsibility for it.” There’s been the odd occasion where I’ve had to put the brakes on him, but it’s important that he can look after himself.

I’m a sounding board for Bernie, even if I say things he doesn’t want to hear. Focus Property Management is his dream job, but about three to four years ago he was in a down spiral and he wanted to sell the business. But the reason he set it up was that he’d have a workplace where he could have time off if he really needed it because of his illness. I helped him see that and made him change his mind. He’s now got his passion back.

Bernie can be very trusting and I love that in him, but I can help him to look at things from a different perspective if necessary. There are so many promises made in business. If he trusts in something to happen and it doesn’t, that can affect his mood and his bipolar.

I’ve developed a more positive outlook to life since I’ve been with Bernie. The bipolar has helped us turn a bad situation around. He constantly looks on the bright side and I admire that in him.

Macquarie University – Make it Happen Forum

Bernie Mitchell to Speak at 2013 University Careers Forum: Make it Happen: transition to work with disability

Event Date: 25 September 2013

Now in its fifth year, this joint initiative of the University of Western Sydney, University of Sydney, Macquarie University, University of Technology Sydney, University of New South Wales and the National Disability Coordination Officer Program, will be held at Macquarie University on 25 September 2013. The Forum is advertised to students in universities in NSW and ACT.

The objective of the Forum is to provide students with the inspiration, knowledge and strategies to undertake a successful transition to appropriate and satisfying employment. There are over 1400 students with a disability registered at Macquarie and this number is expected to rise to over 2000 by next year. The sharpest rise is in the area of mental health and depression.

Bernie Mitchell will attend the Forum as a guest employer, along with IBM, Woolworths and the ATO to share some of his experience and insights with the students.

Focus Home Loans Launch

It is with excitement that we launch Focus Property Home Loans!

The Focus Property Home Loans Team and I bring the “Focus Experience” to the mortgage broking market. As you know my businesses are based on the uncompromising premise, “We do what we say.”

You can expect the same high levels of service that have attributed to the success of Focus Property Management and also Focus Property Sales.

Overcoming the odds

Source: Residental Property Manager

After years of struggling to cope with a mental illness, Bernie Mitchell, director of Focus Property Management, decided to enter what many would agree to be one of the most stressful jobs around.

You’ve recently released a book on your struggle with bipolar disorder. What Prompted you to share your story?

When I started Focus Property Management in 2005 I had been through a lot and I thought I had a story worth telling. But I shelved the idea and didn’t do anything about it for another five years. I was concerned about stigma in society, and worried about what my clients, staff and people I do business with would think. In about 2010, I met someone who encouraged me to share the story, and I did.

So prior to 2010, no one knew about your bipolar?

Most people weren’t aware of it. Some of my closest staff were, but none of my clients knew until I released the book, and the support I’ve had from them has been amazing. Within the industry as well, the support has been great. I just see it as a positive story. There will always be the people who look at it as a weakness, but I don’t see it as a weakness anymore.

What were the main hurdles YOU FACED starting out in property management?

I guess the main difficulty when we first started was the fact that there was no sales income. Being a specialist agency, a lot of my clients – upwards of 80 per cent – came to me to manage their property from another agency, usually from a standard agency. I haven’t really come across anyone from a similar specialist agency. Property management is an interesting choice for someone who is looking to avoid stress. What made you choose this industry? The original idea to get into the property management business came when I was ill because I needed a business that could provide recurring income. I had worked in property management in the late ’90s and I thought it’d be a good business model to get into because I could get someone to hold down the fort if I was unable to. I also wanted to build up an asset for myself and back in the ’90s, when I had the original idea, I saw the property management industry lacked specialists. There weren’t really hands-on business owners in the property management section; they were generally principals who were more focused on the sales department. In some cases, it’s still much the same today.

What are some of the signs of mental illness that managers and principals could look out for in their own staff?

Things to be looking out for are staff who look overwhelmed or are withdrawing from interaction with other staff members, or even withdrawing from interaction with clients. Really, it’s difficult for managers or business owners to have the know-how to pick up these things unless they’re trained. What’s important is they genuinely work with the employee and make any necessary adjustments to the working arrangements that could be beneficial. But the employee does also need to be proactive in that regard – you can’t expect an employer to accommodate you if you’re not going to be transparent. How can principals help tackle mental health problems in the workplace? Encourage staff to take regular breaks during the day. My staff never want to take their lunch breaks, so you need to let them know that it’s okay to do so. Make them go for a walk if they have one of those phone conversations that just makes them want to scream – which happens all too often. Structure your business so that staff can go and work out at the gym during business hours, and encourage them to turn off their emails on their phone when they leave the office. But most importantly, just ask them how they are?

How important is mobile technology to your business?

Source: Residential Property Manager

Bernie Mitchell Managing director/licensee
Focus Property Management,NSW

CRITICAL TO BUSINESS “It’s totally changed the way we operate on a daily basis, so it’s critical to our business. We are currently using mobile technology to shoot video footage of rental properties.

We are also using mobile apps such as Inspect Real Estate so that tenants can register to view our properties. Essentially, when we get to an open home, we’ve got smartphones so there’s no need for pen or paper.

If clients want an application, with the click of a button they’ve got one emailed to them. Cameras on smartphones have also made it easier to take photographs and request photographs of maintenance items from the tenants.’

The finalists have been announced for the LPMA 2013 Awards for Excellence. Focus Property Management is a finalist in the category, “Best Property Management Website”.

Leading Property Managers of Australia 2013 Awards for Excellence

LPMA Finalist 2013

The Daily Agenda with Laurie Atlas – 4CA Cairns

Source: Prime Talk Radio Network, QLD

How I Beat BIPOLAR

Source: Womans Weekly

It used to be a diagnosis mired in stigma and despair. Yet today, as Bernie Mitchell’s inspirational story illustrates, bipolar disorder is no prohibition to a successful and fulfilling life, as Clair Weaver reports.

p1

p2

Source: Womans Weekly July 2013 edition

Would you hire someone with a mental illness?

Source: Illawarra Mercury Online

Bernie Mitchell is a small business owner and real estate agent. He says he would have no problem hiring someone with a mental illness in his business Focus Property Management in Sydney.

That’s largely because he knows what it’s like to be in their shoes. Mitchell, 38, suffers from bipolar disorder. He is also author of Bipolar: a path to acceptance, about his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and how he learned to manage his illness. As a father of four, Mitchell wanted to show it’s possible to balance running a business with raising a family, all while managing his condition.

He says he would hire someone with a mental illness “as long as it is managed responsibly”. Mitchell believes: “It’s important for everyone to know that you can get there in the end and triumph over your mental illness.

“When he has previously hired someone with a mental illness, he was proactive in supporting them. “On becoming aware of their illness I mentored them so that they could empower themselves to take the necessary action and ownership of their recovery plan,” he says. “Given that I had suffered from mental illness, I supported them rather like a coach offering encouragement. We would meet up regularly to check in on progress and any issues that presented in the workplace. In one instance, the role was modified to accommodate the sufferer.”However, is this the responsibility of small business owners?

Melissa Jenkins (not her real name) doesn’t think so. Jenkins, 40, runs a fashion store in Melbourne. “Life as a small business owner already has so many challenges,” she says. “I know it’s not politically correct to say this but I really don’t think I would hire someone with a mental illness. I wouldn’t even put them on a short list of applicants. I don’t have the skills to help someone through their mental illness. I need highly functioning people who aren’t going to give me problems with absenteeism and who can perform their jobs well.

“Of course, I understand that life isn’t always easy. My staff go through difficult times and I try to support them because I care about them. But I don’t want to invite potential issues into the workplace if I don’t have to. I’m already working myself to the bone. I don’t have the bandwidth to deal with more challenges. So if there’s a choice between hiring a quality candidate with a mental illness and a quality candidate who doesn’t, I’m going to pick the latter for sure.”

Susan Bower, 41, owns Dressed for Success, a Brisbane-based property styling business. Like Mitchell, she would hire someone with a mental illness. “As a business owner that suffers from depression myself, I know that with treatment, people with mental illnesses can function just as well as anybody else. “Mental illness is now emerging as a more common illness, so the likelihood of employing someone with a mental illness is much higher whether they disclose it or not.”If you’re applying for a job, should you disclose that you have a mental illness?

Careers counsellor Jane Lowder from Max Coaching says the decision for job candidates regarding whether or not they will disclose a mental illness to a potential employer is one that needs to be carefully considered. “If the mental health condition will not affect their ability to do the role then the candidate is not legally required to disclose it. In this instance, the matter of self-care should come into consideration. A close read of the potential employer’s workplace diversity policy might reveal that support structures and workplace adjustments are available, and therefore an open discussion of any mental health matters upfront may see a new employee receive valued assistance in their role.”

However, this frank discussion does carry some inherent risks. “This potential benefit would need to be weighed against the risk of negative stereotyping or being overlooked for either the role or development opportunities down the track.The ultimate decision about disclosing, when not obligated to do so, will be unique to each individual and role, and so discussing it with a trusted GP, psychologist or career counsellor may help in weighing the options.”

The Fair Work Ombudsman declined to comment on this issue. However, its website states: “Under the Fair Work Act 2009, discrimination is disadvantaging someone in the workplace because of their…physical or mental disability.” It then provides the example of this as “being rejected from a job during the hiring process.”

However, it’s fair to say it would be hard to prove if an employer did not shortlist a candidate during the hiring process because of their mental illness.

Meanwhile, small business owners remain divided on the issue. Some are empathetic. But others, like Jenkins, say it’s not a wise decision. “I know I’m not supposed to feel this way. But I have enough on my plate as it is. It’s already a challenge to manage my existing staff. And I know there are enough people in the world without a mental illness who can fill the roles I need. Why would I hire someone who has one?”

Would you hire someone with a mental illness? Has this had a positive or negative impact on your business?

smh.com.au

Would you hire someone with a mental illness?

Source: Business Day, Online

Bernie Mitchell is a small business owner and real estate agent. He says he would have no problem hiring someone with a mental illness in his business Focus Property Management in Sydney.

That’s largely because he knows what it’s like to be in their shoes. Mitchell, 38, suffers from bipolar disorder. He is also author of Bipolar: a path to acceptance, about his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and how he learned to manage his illness. As a father of four, Mitchell wanted to show it’s possible to balance running a business with raising a family, all while managing his condition.

He says he would hire someone with a mental illness “as long as it is managed responsibly”. Mitchell believes: “It’s important for everyone to know that you can get there in the end and triumph over your mental illness.”

When he has previously hired someone with a mental illness, he was proactive in supporting them. “On becoming aware of their illness I mentored them so that they could empower themselves to take the necessary action and ownership of their recovery plan,” he says. “Given that I had suffered from mental illness, I supported them rather like a coach offering encouragement. We would meet up regularly to check in on progress and any issues that presented in the workplace. In one instance, the role was modified to accommodate the sufferer.”

However, is this the responsibility of small business owners?

Melissa Jenkins (not her real name) doesn’t think so. Jenkins, 40, runs a fashion store in Melbourne. “Life as a small business owner already has so many challenges,” she says. “I know it’s not politically correct to say this but I really don’t think I would hire someone with a mental illness. I wouldn’t even put them on a short list of applicants. I don’t have the skills to help someone through their mental illness. I need highly functioning people who aren’t going to give me problems with absenteeism and who can perform their jobs well.

“Of course, I understand that life isn’t always easy. My staff go through difficult times and I try to support them because I care about them. But I don’t want to invite potential issues into the workplace if I don’t have to. I’m already working myself to the bone. I don’t have the bandwidth to deal with more challenges. So if there’s a choice between hiring a quality candidate with a mental illness and a quality candidate who doesn’t, I’m going to pick the latter for sure.”

Susan Bower, 41, owns Dressed for Success, a Brisbane-based property styling business. Like Mitchell, she would hire someone with a mental illness. “As a business owner that suffers from depression myself, I know that with treatment, people with mental illnesses can function just as well as anybody else.

“Mental illness is now emerging as a more common illness, so the likelihood of employing someone with a mental illness is much higher whether they disclose it or not.”

If you’re applying for a job, should you disclose that you have a mental illness?

Says Mitchell: “It’s important for everyone to know that you can get there in the end and triumph over your mental illness.”

Careers counsellor Jane Lowder from Max Coaching says the decision for job candidates regarding whether or not they will disclose a mental illness to a potential employer is one that needs to be carefully considered. “If the mental health condition will not affect their ability to do the role then the candidate is not legally required to disclose it. In this instance, the matter of self-care should come into consideration. A close read of the potential employer’s workplace diversity policy might reveal that support structures and workplace adjustments are available, and therefore an open discussion of any mental health matters upfront may see a new employee receive valued assistance in their role.”

However, this frank discussion does carry some inherent risks. “This potential benefit would need to be weighed against the risk of negative stereotyping or being overlooked for either the role or development opportunities down the track.The ultimate decision about disclosing, when not obligated to do so, will be unique to each individual and role, and so discussing it with a trusted GP, psychologist or career counsellor may help in weighing the options.”

The Fair Work Ombudsman declined to comment on this issue. However, its website states: “Under the Fair Work Act 2009, discrimination is disadvantaging someone in the workplace because of their…physical or mental disability.” It then provides the example of this as “being rejected from a job during the hiring process.”

However, it’s fair to say it would be hard to prove if an employer did not shortlist a candidate during the hiring process because of their mental illness.