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The Workplace Depression Epidemic 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.

Question: Hi Mark, I read on your website that you have a form of clinical depression called dysthymia, so I'm hoping you will understand my dilemma. I have been diagnosed with depression by my doctor, and have recently started to take medication for it. These first few weeks have been awful for me - nausea, headaches and missed work. Plus I am still feeling numb and low from the depression itself because the drugs may take four to six weeks before they kick in. Do you have any advice on if I should tell my employer what's going on? They know I'm usually a solid performer so they may be understanding about this temporary downturn. What do you think?

Marc C., Saguenay, Quebec
Dear Marc,

Sorry to hear that you have been diagnosed with clinical depression, which is an actual medical condition that often responds very well to treatment (it's very different than, say, the natural feeling of sadness you might experience after you've lost a loved one, or something like that). Hopefully yours will end up being a fairly mild case, as is mine, though even in my case I have been on anti-depressant medication, and in touch with my psychiatrist, over the past 15 years from when I was first diagnosed.

Please know that you are definitely not alone in what you are going through. An astonishing study by the survey firm Ipsos Canada* revealed just last month that nearly 25% of employees and managers -- that's a shocking 1/4 of Canada's entire workforce -- now report being under the care of a physician for (or otherwise living with) depression. This is a radical jump from almost all previous studies, which generally concluded that about 5 or 6 per cent of the population was dealing with this clinical condition.

You have listed some of the more common signs of having this disorder in your e-mail above, like a sense of emotional numbness, or ''flatness,'' where you can no longer enjoy the things that have usually given you the most pleasure in life. You've also mentioned getting down on yourself, or feeling worthless, for no logical reason. Here are some other warning signs to watch for if they last for more than a couple of weeks, and especially if they seem to be happening without a reasonable cause:

- sleep disturbance (either too much of it, or too little - including awakening during the night)
- excessive fatigue (feeling like you're dragging yourself around, or having serious difficulty getting out of bed)
- rumination (repeating ideas or events over and over in your mind, even if you don't want to)
- in the worst cases, suicidal thoughts and a bleak, dark hopelessness that overwhelms you with despair

I remember when I first noticed my own symptoms, back in the early '90s. At that point my career was a constant struggle, and my marriage was just beginning to dissolve. All of a sudden I stopped taking time at night to read novels for relaxation, which had always been a huge source of pleasure in my life. And I began waking up at 4 a.m. for no reason, then lying back helplessly in the night as my mind seemed to switch on, replaying events of the day over and over, like a broken record, even though I really wanted to get back to sleep. Naturally the next day I would be exhausted at the office. Within two weeks, my work performance started to suffer noticeably.

I too had to choose between hiding the condition or ''outing'' myself to my manager to ask for some accommodation - which I felt could put my job in jeopardy. In fact, I suffered for months before calling my doctor, a general practitioner, because I had no idea I was suffering from an actual medical disorder that affects the brain's chemistry.

Ultimately, I had no choice but to speak to my manager at work. 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 mid-afternoon nap. My reports weren't getting done. I was making more mistakes. And so, I went to my boss before he came gunning for me. It was a very difficult conversation, one which I will address in next week's column. Let's just say that if I hadn't revealed my situation at that point, I learned later that I'd have been fired for sure. So admitting that there was a problem bought me time at that company, though not as much as I would have liked.

For all you readers, thankfully these days help is but a click, or phone call, away. On the net, you can start with an excellent list of links to articles and resources on depression, from our federal government's National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) site, or via phone, you can call your employer's free Employee Assistance Hotline, if available. Otherwise call your doctor and get in as soon as you can. And if you're feeling suicidal, call a free ''crisis hotline'' immediately (check out this excellent list of Canadian crisis lines) or get to your nearest hospital emergency room, or a walk-in clinic, to speak to a medical professional.

At long last the stigma attached to clinical depression and other medical conditions which involve the brain is finally disappearing, 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. It is a growing epidemic that has remained hidden for far too long. I wish all of you all the best on this!

*For the relevant parts of the Ipsos study, consider skipping down to page 3 of the highlights, and begin with the header that reads ''Awareness and Accommodation of Mental Health Issues in the Workplace...''

Note: for Managers and Executives especially, please visit the wonderfully informative site started by Bill Wilkerson, Mental Health Roundtable. You will learn what you can do to assist your staff while boosting your bottom line.

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