State of Depression
Mental health affects how we think and feel about our lives. That feeling has an impact on our behavior and how we cope in good and tough times. The most common mental health conditions include anxiety, bi-polar disorder, depression, hyperactivity, insomnia, mania, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With antidepressants being the most commonly form of prescribed medication in the United States today, it appears we are in a sad state of mind.
However, many doctors readily admit that antidepressants are often prescribed because of cost. Patients can often afford prescription co-pays over the cost of seeing a mental health specialist. Also, research shows that the national average to go from a referral from your primary doctor to an appointment with a mental health specialist is 4 to 8 weeks (in non-emergent cases only).
As we began to write this month’s newsletter, we asked one of our personal doctors her opinion if cost and time ever factored into her decisions with patients. She told us that in the real world, doctors know they sometimes have one chance to get patients, especially ones presenting signs of depression, some kind of care. She recommends counseling and makes referrals to her psychology peers but she cares for them how she can while she has the chance.
Clinical depression only takes 2 weeks to develop. Many doctors begin patients on an antidepressant to bridge the gap until they can see a counselor or psychologist. But by then, the emotional need feels less urgent and the cycle of “This medication seems to be working for me…” begins.
Stress or Mental Illness?
When tragedy strikes, such as the recent news of a co-pilot for Lufthansa’s airline Germanwings intentionally crashing into the French Alps, we look for answers. What makes a young man kill himself and 149 others? What would make this man take his own life along with the lives of his innocent passengers? One possible answer revealed that the he had previously suffered from deep depression. Discussions began about how the pilot’s mental health affected the tragedy. What treatment had he received and whether his employers should have let him fly at all.
That nature of that discussion is an issue that is most often ignored in the workplace… Mental health, stress and unrealistic workloads are more commonly met with canned speeches about being “a company based on family values” or one that “encourages a healthy work family balance.” Who among us has ever been told us to stop working so many hours, only to be then handed more work and asked why deadlines are being missed all in one day? We can’t see you but we’ll assume hands are being raised!
When it comes to chronic stress, depression or mental health in the workplace, the main problem for companies isn’t absenteeism as much as it is the effected employee overworking out of panic that they may not be performing up to par. This general overcompensation is fueled by fear that co-workers or management may think less of them, rather than offering help. In reality, just as with any illness, the person needs time, treatment and care without any stigma attached to his or her full recovery. To simply believe any of us could or should be expected to suffer through any form of “un”wellness or work in environments of endless stress without impacting the atmosphere around us is absurd.
“To date, companies have focused on physical health much more than they have on mental health,” says Professor John A. Quelch, Charles Wilson Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. In collaboration with Carin-Isabel Knoop, executive director of the HBS Case Research & Writing Group, he recently wrote the note, Mental Health and the American Workplace, exploring the extent of the phenomenon, its cost to organizations and employees, and some managerial responses.
Perhaps it’s the social effects of mental health issues that keep workers from admitting they are suffering. “There is a pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps philosophy that is still prevalent in many companies,” says Quelch. “We develop other words to talk about mental health—we call it ‘stress’ or call on people to be ‘resilient.’”
“If someone has diabetes and they have to manage that chronic condition, no one bats an eyelid,” says Quelch. “But if I say I have to manage a mental health problem, co-workers and the human resource department may start getting nervous. It’s presumed that mental health issues are more under an individual’s control.”
Create a Culture of Care
A 2013 survey by the American Psychiatric Association found that one-third of working Americans experienced chronic work stress, while only 16% reported their employers provided adequate support to manage it. Our culture of 3 a.m. emails and conference room competition is contributing to workplace stress. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 7% of American adults experience “major depressive disorder.
Clearly, corporate America has some work to do in the area of improving home/work balance in today’s technology driven workforce. Those of us with company issued laptops and the “luxury” of working from home can say first hand, those conveniences are most a blessing and a curse. It can feel like you NEVER leave work.
Health care has some work to do as well but there are options. If you are having issues with stress, depression, anxiety or any mental health issue, we urge you to see your doctor. Denial and self-medicating is not a long-term solution.
They say that the culture of a company starts from the top level and trickles throughout the corporation. We’ve all likely seen positive and negative examples where this theory has proven to be true. Perhaps this theory is also true with people. But, it’s up to us to create a culture of care that begins inside of us. While we cannot prevent all health issues; mental or physical, we can care for ourselves with exercise, diet, activity, companionship and lots of love.