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How to Deal with Depression in the Workplace

3 Key Points in this Article:

  1. Leaders are not immune to depression, but they still can be successful despite having depression.
  2. Employees who have depression often need support from the business they work for and they should get appropriate medical assistance.
  3. Creating a supportive environment for those that deal with depression has a powerful positive influence on your culture and your bottom line.

Depression is something that affects millions of people each year. It is estimated that upwards of 50% of people with depression remain undiagnosed.

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, please don’t be ashamed and ask for help because you don’t need to suffer alone any longer. If you are in crisis seek immediate medical help.

I have personally experienced the negative effects of depression and anxiety and that is why I am so motivated to write this article and why I produced a 4-part mini-series on my podcast dedicated to the subject of depression in the workplace.

If you want to build a better business, there are several fundamental things you need in place. To start with I believe that leadership is the foundation of every business.

As the leader of your business at some point you are going to have an employee who has depression but before we talk about that I want to focus on you.

Executives and entrepreneurs statistically have a greater likelihood of being depressed than their employees. Since the leader or leadership group is the foundation of the business it is paramount that any depression that is suffered by a leader is addressed and proper care is administered.

A Leader with Depression  

I would like to introduce you to Dennis C. Miller who I interviewed in part-1 of the Depression in the Workplace mini-series on the Build a Better Business Podcast.

Dennis is a nationally-recognized strategic leadership coach, author, and motivational speaker. Dennis was a long time CEO who suffered from depression and yet he was a very successful leader.

How did he do it and what can we learn from his experience?

Some of the key takeaways from my interview with Dennis is that depression is not a weakness or something to be ashamed off and it is important that you don’t self-medicate or deny you have a problem because if you invest heavily in your mental health you can be a very successful leader.

If you would like to listen to my entire discussion with Dennis, click here.

Dennis also wrote an excellent article entitled, “4 Things I Learned Coping with Depression in the C-Suite.” If you would like to read the article go to jamieirvine.ca/depression1.

How I Discovered I Had Depression

I am going to share with you my personal experience with depression but please keep in mind that this blog is designed to offer you information only, you must make all your own personal and business decisions and I highly recommend that you consult professionals. This is true in business but is especially true when making decisions about your health.

The reason I am going to share my story is that I want people to understand one thing:

“The longer you wait to get help the more damage you can do in your life and when you get help the impact on your life can be wonderful.”

My Background

My mother and father were dating for 5-years. My mother did not want children and was told by a doctor that she had a health condition that would prevent her from ever having babies. This was good news to my mother.

Roughly one month later she was pregnant with me. Even when consulting professionals it is always prudent to get a second opinion. My father and my mother broke up before I was born, and my mother moved across the country to live with my grandmother. I never met my father and I guess he didn’t want children either.

I spent the first two years of my life living with my grandmother and I called her “Mum” to the day she died when I was 7-years old. To say that my mother and I have not had the best relationship would be accurate.

My father leaving and never meeting him created abandonment issues and when you combined that with the nature of my relationship with my mother you got an angry little boy.

My mother suffers from depression, anxiety, and I believe some other mental health issues and from the few stories that I have heard about my biological father, I believe that he too suffered from some mental health issues. So, when you combined the environment I grew up in and the genetics I received from my parents you get a person that is susceptible to depression and anxiety.

As I grew older, I was high functioning, getting good grades in school, I had lots of friends and I held down multiple part-time jobs. In grade 12 I had three jobs and negotiated with my principal to only go to school part-time so that I could work. The principal agreed and I received credits for my work that I applied to my high school diploma.

At 17 years old and my high school diploma a sure thing I started making plans to move as far away from my parents as possible. I grew up in Canada in the province of New Brunswick on the Eastern seaboard above the state of Main and I moved to Vancouver, British Columbia on the West Coast.

Now to be fully transparent I was also dating a girl who lived in Vancouver and that was a big draw. Sadly, people often are attracted to what they know and this girl who I was dating was not mentally healthy. In fact, now looking back I believe she may have had Borderline Personality Disorder. We got married at 19 and divorced at 21. It was a nightmare relationship for both of us.

I wasted no time and started dating my next-door neighbor. She had two kids and I always wanted to have a family of my own, so it seemed like a perfect situation where I was the missing piece. The problem was I was a mess and I was young, so I had this constant war inside of me, part of me wanted to be a family man and have the family I never had, part of me wanted to party and have fun as a single man.

The next four years was a disaster that ended with my daughter being conceived, me proposing marriage, and a year later us getting divorced. I found myself a single dad, addicted to hardcore drugs, hanging out with bikers, and potentially being charged with some serious crimes.

By the grace of God, I mentally woke up and realized that I needed to change. I know exactly when it happened. It was 4 am and I visited some biker friends and for the first time, I saw what everyone else saw. These men had nothing of substance in their lives, the only thing of value they had was their Harley’s and since I was going much harder than they were I knew at that moment that what I was seeing was my best-case scenario. A lengthy prison sentence, being killed by a rival, or dying from a drug overdose was more likely for me.

So, I turned on my heels and walked out of that apartment and out of that life. I looked up into the sky and said to God, “I’ll do it your way to the best of my ability from now on.”

It took some time but eventually, I negotiated my freedom from the bikers, resolved matters with the police and the courts, got clean and sober and started the 15-year process of rebuilding my life and raising my daughter. I met a wonderful woman two years later who I married, and we have been together ever since.

Life has not been easy though. Over the last 15-years, I have always had something challenging to deal with.

We lived in Vancouver so seasonal depression was a challenge in the winter, we had the struggles of starting our business, we had financial reversals, one example was when the worst drought in the history of the Vancouver area caused us to lose all of our money and put us deeply in debt while we tried to keep our employees going and our business alive.

We have had other serious challenges, for example with raising my daughter and having to fight for custody, dealing with my wife’s chronic health problems, recovering from my accident at work where I almost died from falling 20-feet off a building and having a crisis of faith that caused me to question the religious beliefs that I was raised with and the religion we are a part of.

What I am trying to convey here is that my life has had a lot of ups and downs. There has always been something significant to deal with and overcome. Nothing has been easy and for many years I never really had a break or an extended period where we were not dealing with something that was physically, emotionally, or spiritually taxing.

This is significant because it explains how a 39-year old man, who from an outsider’s perspective appears to be very successful and really have it all, could have depression, anxiety, and unresolved emotional issues from his childhood and not even know it.

You see from an outsider’s perspective all they saw was a man who made some serious mistakes in his early 20’s, recovered from that, and now has a good marriage, a nice family, and a successful career which includes being an award-winning sales professional, an entrepreneur, and heck I even was a minister for 5-years and did outreach work with a prisoner who was being released from prison and needed help integrating back into society. I mean from an outsider’s perspective I had it all and must be blissfully happy.

The reality was, although I was happy with having a beautiful family and being successful in business, I was really struggling with my weight which was causing some physical health problems but more significantly I was struggling emotionally with my mental health.

Success Leads to Discovering Depression and Anxiety

In August of 2018, I had a week of holidays planned with my wife. My daughter was visiting her mom for the summer holidays and my wife and I had decided to take our dogs, Baby and Oreo and go camping with our holiday trailer. This was a bonus week off and a reward for doing such great work all year.

The problem was I was mentally melting down, I didn’t want to go, I was totally stressed out and this was very confusing to both my wife and to me.

Why was I reacting this way to a week off work?

My mind was racing as I tried to figure out what was going on. I remember being in an absolute panic and going through every aspect of my life. There had to be something causing this anxiety.

As I went through every aspect of my life, I discovered something that had never happened before. I didn’t have any serious problems to cope with. For the first time in my life since I moved away from my grandmother’s home at the age of 2, I was not faced with some massive problem.

  • Everyone in my family and all my friends was happy and relatively healthy.
  • My career was on track and my work was both fulfilling and financially rewarding.
  • We were virtually debt free with the only a few years left on our mortgage.
  • My spirituality was on the rebound.
  • My physical health was improving and I was active and healthy.

I should have been happy, I should have been ecstatic and yet I was depressed and full of anxiety. Childhood memories started flooding back to me and resentment and anger was building within me. I had no appetite, no desire to do anything, I felt like I was in a deep dark hole and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get out.

My wife and I went camping but I only made it four days and we came home early.

“What the hell was going on?”

Getting Help

After we got home from the camping trip, I went and saw my doctor.

I couldn’t believe what my doctor said:

“Jamie, you have depression and anxiety, you’ve had them for your entire adult life, you just didn’t know it.”

My success and years of hard work had systematically repaired or removed all of the major problems in my life and for the first time I had a chance to acknowledge that the feelings of anxiety and depression I had grown accustomed to and attributed to all of the external pressures and stress of living my life, was actually coming from a chemical imbalance in my brain and trauma I experienced as a child being raised in the environment I was raised in.

My doctor made some recommendations, gave me some new tools to help me cope, and I have been following those recommendations rigorously and using the tools every day since September of 2018.

The result has been incredible.

It took so many years to understand that the anxiety and depression I was enduring was coming from within me and was not being caused by external things going on in my life. Sure, those external pressures contributed to those feelings, but they were not the cause of them.

Since then I have been working hard to work through my childhood trauma and let go of the resentment I feel toward my parents and the religion they raised me in. It hasn’t been easy, but the rewards have been tremendous.

The point of my story is this.

I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn’t know that I was suffering from depression and anxiety that was caused by my genetics and the environment I was raised in as a child. I didn’t know I needed help, but the signs were there.

In fact, several years before I got help a doctor suggested that perhaps it wasn’t just seasonal depression from living in Vancouver and all the rain we got. I dismissed the suggestion and the doctor didn’t pursue it any further. Looking back to that time in our lives my wife and I must acknowledge that we were scared to admit that maybe there was a bigger problem and we feared the stigma of being diagnosed with depression and the treatment that might be prescribed.

How long would I have suffered had I not received that bonus week off at just the right time?

The reality is that since that time my brother’s marriage has ended, my best friends’ marriage has ended and his mother has died, my daughter and my wife have both been diagnosed with separate chronic illnesses and the economic climate has caused a contraction in my income.

Would I have attributed my depression and anxiety to those challenges that my friends and family are experiencing and failed to understand that I needed help myself?

Most likely as this was the pattern of my entire adult life.

People who are suffering from depression and anxiety need help. They need help getting help and it is our responsibility to tear down the stigma, tear down the fear, and do all we can to make sure these people get the help they need.

People with depression and anxiety can be very high functioning. I am proof of that but imagine what those people can do to change the world if they get the help and the tools, they need to treat depression and anxiety!

I would like each and every one of you to do an honest evaluation of first yourself, then your family members, and finally your employees and co-workers.

Is there someone in your sphere of influence that needs help?

If there is, I encourage you to take the first step of just expressing how much you care about them and take the second step of educating yourself about the signs of depression and anxiety and how to get help for yourself or someone you care about.

For one resource go to jamieirvine.ca/depression2.

Helping Employees with Depression

The World Health Organization releases statistics about mental health disorders every year. According to the statistics released in October of 2018, 1 in 4 people will have mental or neurological disorders in their lifetime.

That means that as an employer 25% of your staff will have a mental health disorder at some point. It is important to create an environment within your business that ensures that employees who need help get help.

In part-3 of the mini-series, Depression in the Workplace on the Build a Better Business Podcast, I interviewed Michele Molitor about how to help employees with depression.

Michele is the founder and CEO of Nectar Consulting, and co-author of the best-selling book “Breakthrough Healing”.  She works with executives and entrepreneurs bringing over 25 years of experience, intuitive insights and strategic business savvy to their success. She is an expert at enhancing the capacity of leaders, to build high performing teams and exponentially increase bottom-line results.

Michele has suffered depression and understands how to help employees with depression.

The key takeaway from this interview was that there is great value in showing personal interest in our employees, often time just listening without the pressure to do anything is enough, and remember you are a leader, not a therapist, so don’t try to be one.

Michele has prepared a resource for leaders, if you are interested please go to jamieirvine.ca/depression3.

Creating A Supportive Environment for Employees

Using the tools available to overcome depression is so important for you as a leader and for your employees. Obviously, people who are healthy are more capable of producing better results at work. There are also other financial benefits of creating a supportive environment for employees who have depression.

In part-2 of this mini-series, I shared my personal story about how I discovered I had depression and I mentioned that with the help of my doctor I was given some tools that have made a significant difference in my mental health and life.

I know I wrote this earlier, but it is worth repeating:

“The longer you wait to get help the more damage you can do in your life and when you get help the impact on your life can be wonderful.”

I would like to introduce you to a 4-step process that will help you understand what is involved in helping people with depression.

The 4-Step Depression Care Process

In this article, I have emphasized how important it is that someone who is dealing with depression gets help from medical professionals.

Basically, you can summarize the depression care process into 4 steps:

Recognition and Diagnosis

Part-1 and Part-2 really drove home how important this step is and gave two different examples of real people who traveled different paths to diagnosis and treatment.

Patient Education

This entire 4-part mini-series; Depression in the Workplace, is really designed to help educate people but of course, each individual person must take responsibility for this education process and take advantage of every resource available, most importantly medical professionals.

Treatment

This is the area that we are going to focus on in the rest of this article.

Monitoring

This is the final step in getting treatment for depression. If you would like more information about the Depression Care Process, please go to jamieirvine.ca/depression4.

Not Every Tool Will Be Right for Someone with Depression

There are several tools that medical professionals use to treat people with depression.

They can be put into several categories which include; supportive counseling, medication, psychological counseling, and emergency services.

It is important to remember that not every tool is right for the person who has depression. The path to good mental health will look different for each person.

It is important that we don’t say things to an employee like, “oh, I know someone who had depression and they took this medication and it made such a difference” or “my friend had depression and they got support from friends and family and it solved the problem.”

Remember that depression has a spectrum, the way it affects one person is going to be different from the way it affects someone else. The tools used to treat depression will also be on a spectrum. One person needs a little support from family, friends and their employer and the next person may need to be hospitalized in an emergency because they have become suicidal.

As a business leader, I know you want to help. Especially if you have created a culture of caring within your business. As a fellow employee who is contributing to that culture of caring your coworkers can be like friends, even family, depending on how long you have worked together, and I know you want to help as well.

Instead of generalizing the solutions it is more important that you acknowledge that either you yourself need help or the person you are concerned about needs help and you provide a supportive environment that encourages the individual to get the specific help they need.

Fear Shouldn’t Stop You

I know that I could have got treatment at least 10-years earlier then I did, you may remember I mentioned earlier that a doctor had suggested we investigate further because he suspected I was dealing with more than just seasonal depression but fear stopped me from pursuing a diagnosis and treatment.

I’ve seen situations where a person is afraid of going to the doctor, afraid of getting stigmatized by a depression diagnosis, afraid of taking prescribed medication, or afraid of talking about it with a counselor, therapist, or psychologist.

Now it is important to acknowledge that some fears are well-founded. For example, you might be stigmatized for having depression, some people don’t react well to some medications and not all counselors, therapists, or psychologists are going to help you.

On a side note, I’ve been reading Combating Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan, he is the leading expert on cults in America, and he talks about therapists who end up starting cults and recruiting patients into them. This is an extreme situation and not very common but shows you that when a person is fearful about getting help it is not entirely unfounded.

Yet most fears about getting a depression diagnosis and treatment are just that, fears, and are not based on anything real. I can’t encourage you enough to get help yourself and if you see an employee struggling, help them overcome the fear by talking about depression regularly. Don’t single out one person but rather make talking about depression a commonplace occurrence so that people feel more comfortable sharing and asking for help.

I want you to think about something, if just one employee is suffering from depression, that has the potential to negatively impact your entire business, so it is important that you address depression in the workplace directly.

Now you may only have 5 employees, so 1 person with depression means that 20% of your staff is directly affected and of course with such a small team everyone else is directly affected as well.

If you have 10 employees that means 10% of your staff are directly affected but it is still reasonable to expect that the entire team would be at least indirectly affected.

But what if you have 100 employees?

Does 1% of your staff having a struggle with depression really affect your business that much?

The short answer is YES.

If you have 100 employees, statistically you could have as many as 25 employees or more suffer from some form of depression at any given time, but even if you only had 1 it still can have a negative effect on your business.

Why?

There are many reasons, one reason is that the person suffering from depression will often have diminished performance and that can start a ripple effect because other employees will have to pick up the slack for that person.

Also, if you are developing a culture of care within your business and you don’t care about someone suffering from depression, your employees will pick up on that and that will work against you.

I also believe that when you can help someone, and you choose not to you are violating yourself. We all have something inside of us that alerts us to what is right and what is wrong. Some of us listen to that internal voice and others have actively tried to silence that voice but it is still there.

You can do a lot as an individual to help tear down the stigma of depression and tear down the fear of getting help. I know you care about your business, your customers, and your employees. I know you care about helping people with depression otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this 5000+ word blog article.

Do all you can to create an environment in your business that makes it easy for people to talk about depression openly and get access to the help they need. It is very important that we never judge anyone with depression, especially not someone who is seeking help.

The Financial Benefits

Creating a supportive environment in your business for those with depression may sound like a purely altruistic endeavor but it is not. It is a very sound strategic financial investment.

Let me explain.

It is not that hard to understand that having several depressed people on your team is going to reduce productivity. Depressed people need to take more time off work, this puts a strain on the rest of the team, which can cause others to burn out and this has a domino effect. Depression costs time, energy, and money and works against you in developing a culture of care and pursuing your dream for your business.

Depressed people also often can’t consistently produce the same quality of work. The solution is not to get rid of the depressed person but rather to invest heavily in all your employee’s mental health so that everyone can produce at peak levels.

When people are depressed, they often put on a brave face, but your customers are intuitive and even if they don’t consciously identify that something is wrong they will subconsciously pick up on the difference between someone who is putting on a brave face and someone who is mentally healthy and delighted to be there in that moment serving that customer.

This can have a negative impact on sales. Often the margin of error on winning a contract or securing a large order can be razor thin. If someone on your team is depressed and they are not receiving treatment, they may be just a little slower to respond to an objection from a key decision maker.

On the surface, it doesn’t appear like a big deal but subconsciously the decision maker may feel that a competitor is more capable because they responded quicker than your team did and that sealed the deal for your competitor.

In past podcast episodes and blog articles, I have talked about how people buy emotionally and justify rationally after the purchase has been made. This is all part of that reality.

Finally, I believe that being responsible with your employees has other benefits that ultimately will help the bottom line. If your business has a good reputation as a great place for people to work that can sway potential suppliers and customers your way.

It is not out of the question that you could use your culture of caring and the proactive steps you have taken to help your people who suffer from depression as a differentiator in your value proposition to customers.

Customers want to deal with socially responsible businesses.

Imagine that as part of your plan you did an annual fundraiser to combat the stigma of depression. You involve your suppliers, customers, employees, and the community.

Now, imagine that your sales team meets with a large potential customer the week after the fundraiser. There are three decision makers in the room and as your sales team works through the sales system two of the three decision makers are satisfied and are willing to go ahead but they need the third decision maker to agree.

Now imagine the third decision maker is me. I’m the CEO of that company and I attended your fundraiser. The members of the executive team look to me to make the final decision.

How much of an impact do you think your efforts to combat depression will have on my decision?

If your business provides a solution my business needs and my executive team is satisfied that you will be a good supplier, I am going to factor in your efforts to combat depression. I’m going to think to myself, “I like this business and what they are doing, not only are they systematic in the delivery of their sales presentations and solutions, they really care about their people and that means they are going to care about us. I’ve had depression my whole life and that means something to me that they are trying to do something about it.”

You can see that if you and your competitor were supplying basically the exact same solution and there was not much to differentiate you from your competitor this would put it over the top. Now, of course, this is not our primary objective when developing a culture of caring or when providing support for those who need help with depression because if it were it wouldn’t be authentic, and it would do more to hurt our reputation than help it.

But if you’re the real deal and you really care, it is one more reason why your ideal customer should buy from you instead of your competition and that will impact your financial bottom line.

Just a reminder, if you want access to additional information about the Depression Care Process please go to jamieirvine.ca/depression4.

In the end, the fact is that most people will be affected by mental health disorders or work with someone who is affected. We all need to do our part to tear down the stigma surrounding mental health disorders, which includes depression, and to make sure that everyone who needs help can get access to the help they need.

This will make us better as individuals, as leaders in our businesses, and that will help us build a better business as a whole.


The source material for this article was originally aired on the Build a Better Business Podcast.

You can listen to the 4-part mini-series on episodes 101, 102, 103, and 104.

Please subscribe to the podcast today for great interviews and lectures that will give you the tools to be a leader that dreams and build a better business filled with managers that lead and employees that care.

You can subscribe to the podcast on any of the following podcast apps:

Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher

Author: Jamie Irvine

My name is Jamie Irvine and I have been a Sales Professional since 1997 and an Entrepreneur since 2009.

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