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More Than Just the Blues Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Workopolis.com Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit www.CareerActivist.com.

Could You Be Suffering From Clinical Depression?

Your alarm clock rings at the usual time and it's Tuesday morning, a workday. Oh yeah, that update on Clairol's media spend is due. And at 11:00 a.m. you'll be in on the all-important MasterCard pitch.

Only you can't drag yourself out of bed.

It's like there's a thousand-kilogram weight on your chest. And, damn it all, you keep repeating the same awful thoughts over and over in your head, like there's a CD from Hell lodged in your brain: ''I am worthless. I am a piece of human garbage...Everyone knows I'm nothing but a drag on the world.'' You shake your head and tell yourself it doesn't make sense. You're a top performer who has friends and loved ones galore. Still the CD repeats that you're rubbish. Plus you feel and look like crap because you keep waking up in the middle of the night even though things have been going just fine at work. Until now.

Have You Noticed Changes Lately? Are these disturbing changes in behaviour because tax season's around the corner? Possibly, but a more likely answer is that you may be suffering from a medical condition that--as an astonishing November 2007 study by Ipsos Canada attests--affects up to 25% of our entire workforce. I'm referring here to clinical depression, a condition that afflicts more than 4.25 million employees and managers in Canada. I've been living with a version of it myself called dysthymia, which thankfully is a low-level (though long-term) variant. It's been with me for more than 15 years now.

Are you one of the silently suffering? You might be if you've noticed a couple of the following shifts in yourself for more than a week or two in a row, especially if they really do seem out of character for you:
  • A sense of emotional numbness, or ''flatness,'' where you no longer enjoy the things that have usually given you the most pleasure in life.
  • Getting down on yourself, or feeling worthless or guilty, for no logical reason.
  • Eating too much or too little.
  • Sleep disturbance (either a significant increase or decrease and/or regular awakening during the night).
  • Excessive fatigue (feeling as if you're dragging yourself around or having serious difficulty getting out of bed) or difficulty concentrating.
  • Rumination (repeating ideas or events over and over in your mind, even when you don't want to).
  • In the worst cases, suicidal thoughts and a bleak, dark hopelessness that overwhelms you with unending despair.
Back in the early 1990s when I was first diagnosed--at the time I was married with two young children and had a mortgage the size of the current U.S. national debt--I had to choose between hiding the condition or ''outing'' myself to my manager to ask for some accommodation. The latter option could have put my job in jeopardy, since my boss kind of hated me (if it's any consolation, the feeling was mutual). So I suffered miserably for months before visiting my doctor, a general practitioner, who explained that, unlike sadness or ''the blues'' we get as a normal part of life, clinical depression is a recognized medical disorder that affects the brain's chemistry. No need to discuss neurotransmitters or 5-HTP genetic predispositions here. It's enough to know that what you're experiencing may be real, and in need of legitimate treatment.

Reaching Out for Help Returning to me in 1992 for a moment, ultimately I had no choice but to open up to my manager. I'd rather have chewed on shards of glass, believe me. But by that time for a whole week I had been locking my office door--I was lucky enough to have one--and was catching a desperate mid-afternoon nap. My reports weren't getting done. I was making careless mistakes. And so I went to my boss before he came gunning for me. It was a very difficult conversation. Let's just say that if I hadn't revealed my situation at that point, I learned later I'd have been fired for sure. So admitting that there was a problem bought me some time at that company, so I could start meeting with a psychiatrist, experiment with talk therapy and various antidepressant medications, and begin to get my ''self'' back slowly, though not always surely.

Today, thankfully, for individuals suffering from depression, help is but a click, phone call or doctor's visit away. On the 'Net, you can start with an excellent resource on depression, the Mood Disorders Society of Canada site. You can also call your employer's free employee assistance hotline, if available. Otherwise, call your doctor and get in to see him or her as soon as you can. And if you're feeling suicidal, please, please call a free crisis hotline or get to your nearest hospital emergency room, walk-in clinic or other medical professional now.

At long last, the stigma attached to clinical depression--and other medical conditions that involve the brain--is beginning to subside, bit by bit, as more people begin to see that mental health is an issue that touches every single one of us, and that it is not a weakness to either come down with, or seek treatment for, a condition that has remained hidden for far too long. If you're among those afflicted with depression, I wish you every success as well as the courage to do what's needed for yourself. Everyone who truly cares about you will support you in getting healthier again.

Note: Readers, in particular, managers and executives, may be interested in the wonderfully informative site of the Toronto-based Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health founded by Canadian Bill Wilkerson. According to the site, the Roundtable ''consists of business, health and education leaders who have undersigned the proposition that mental health is a business and economic issue.''

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