Friday, December 26, 2008

When You've Fallen and Can't Get Up

I've been impressed by the number of blog posts I've read lately that urge people not to give in to despair in these despairing times, to remember that most of us have all that we really need: our friends, our family, our health.

At the same time, I know that despite these pep talks there are people who, no matter how much they try, aren't feeling better. Despite the extra time spent recently with people who love them and care about them, they have fallen and can't get up.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15-44, affecting about 15 million American adults annually, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older. While depression can develop at any age, the median age at onset is about 32, and is more more prevalent in women than in men.

Those are the facts. But what lies behind those facts is much tougher. Anyone who has suffered from depression or had someone they care about struggle with the disease knows that the toll it takes cannot be summed up in simple statistics. It can tear apart relationships, and it can harm careers.

Despite more people willing to talk about how the disease has affected them at work, there are people who try and hide how they're feeling, how they are having difficulty coping not only with daily life, but with the rising tide of bad news in the workplace.

I'm not a mental health expert, but I do know that in order to survive in today's difficult business climate, you need to be on top of your game. Both physically and emotionally. Sure, you need to go the extra mile at work in order to try and hang on to your job, but that's not going to happen if you're not able to cope with life on a daily basis.

When I first started writing my column for Gannett News Service about 15 years ago, I wrote on depression in the workplace. I was flooded with mail from people who were so grateful that I had written about a subject they felt had been hidden too long. While it is being talked about more today because it does affect productivity, I still think a lot of people want to believe that depression doesn't happen to them, and they can handle whatever is happening on their own.

As I said, if all the pep talks in the world aren't making you feel better, consider talking to your doctor, or check out this online quiz that might help you understand if you are suffering from depression.

I hope this holiday time has been restorative for your body and mind. I hope that you feel a renewed sense of hope, an ability to cope with whatever life hands you every day. But if not, my hope is that you'll understand you're not alone, and that help is available. Give yourself the greatest gift of all and make your health a priority for 2009.

How do you think the workplace could better help those with depression?

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Anonymous said...

Great post, Anita. Yes, if people go for more than a couple of days with the blues it may well be time to talk to a professional. Some prescription drugs or physical problems can create depression also, so a trip for a check-up could be helpful. What's important is not to ignore it.

Anita said...

Those are key words: Don't ignore it. It's much easier for many of us to care for someone else before we pay attention to our own needs. But as experts often say, you can't take care of anyone else if you, yourself, are not healthy enough to do it.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Anita--Good for you for drawing attention to this issue. My first hit is that businesses could make an effort to be sure healthy snacks, water, drinks are available on-site, getting rid of soft drinks machines. Also, an on-site gym would be good! I suppose that's asking a lot in this climate, so how about starting a walking regime for workers? or a run? Or letting employees' animals come into the workplace? Also they could make sure buildings are clean and well cared for and that plenty of plants are growing both inside and out. Also good ventilation and good light is important. There are really so many things employers could do to enhance their environments, making Coming to Work a happy experience, for not that much $.

Anita said...

You're right in that sometimes the simplest things can really make a difference, and that includes watching out for another worker's well being. That includes being supportive in the physical things (letting employees take time to exercise, possibly bring in pets, etc.), but also in the emotional ones as well. Sometimes it is managers and co-workers who recognize that something is really wrong, and they need to be trained in how to deal with that person's needs and and how to be the most supportive. Thanks for your good ideas.

Anonymous said...

Anita, thank you for shedding light on such an important topic. These are such troubling times. Being out of a job takes such a toll on your emotional well-being. Even if you are employed, this economy is likely to make you feel like you are waiting for the other shoe to fall. We need to be especially kind to ourselves and others.

Anita said...

I've heard people describe depression as a constant body ache that won't go away. I think you're right that we need to recognize that even if things "appear" to be going well for us, we need to understand what our body is trying to tell us. Let's hope 2009 brings out the kindness in all of us.
Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Job loss has to be one of the of the most challenging and stressful events in life (short of losing a loved one). How you handle job loss is very much about "getting up after you fall". The following link gives advise for "getting up" after losing your job.

Anita said...

Thanks for the link. I hope that this post has given everyone some good information they can use to get the help they need.