I am not featured in my high school yearbook as person most likely to be giving career advice. In fact, people were probably thinking, as they signed my yearbook, that I was the person most likely to never even find a career. This is because I have had bouts with mental illness since I was a teenager.
So I am enraged at Tom Cruise's crusade against effective treatments for depression. Depression is serious: Fifteen percent of clinically depressed people die by suicide. If you are depressed you need to get medical help immediately.
The World Health Organization ranks depression as the fourth most common disease (after lower respiratory tract infections, diarrheal diseases, and conditions arising in the perinatal period.) Research from Yale University showed that 70% of people who saw a doctor for depression were successfully treated.
Unfortunately, most people who are depressed do not seek help. Probably because the world is full of lunatics like Tom Cruise who belittle the illness and its treatments.
Statistically speaking, depression is a workplace issue: One in five working women suffers from depression. It is twice as common in women than in men, and among women, high intelligence is a risk factor for depression. So I am probably not the only woman you know who has been depressed.
Depression at work feels like depression anywhere else: A wave of hopelessness overcomes you and you have no idea why it's there or what to do to get rid of it. But if you are working, it's more likely to happen at your desk. If you have a door on your office, you lock it. If you have an opportunity to “work from home”, you announce you're taking it. These are tactics I have used. But believe me, they don't work for very long.
I never realized how optimistic getting out of bed was until I had depression. Getting out of bed is an act of hope — that there is something to look forward to in life. When depression came, hope and faith left. For no apparent reason.
Depression was immobilizing, and when I was depressed I spent most of my time at work covering up my inability to get anything done. For a while, people assumed I was taking care of things because I was a person who always took care of things.
But it's hard to hide depression at work. I started looking weird. People noticed, for example, that I couldn't have a conversation about anything because conversation requires interest and depression made me uninterested in everything. Everyone has an off day during an important lunch. But you can't have too many of those.
If career success is about building a strong, competent image of yourself over the course of time, then depression is the antithesis — it destroys your image relatively fast. People started to wonder who I really was. And so did I. I couldn't make decisions, I couldn't keep a schedule, I was not reliable and no one knew why.
Depression made me hide. I was not a mom or a wife when I was depressed, so hiding was relatively easy. The only people who needed me on a day-to-day basis were my teammates at work. So the office was my barometer for how much I was falling apart. I went to a psychiatrist because I didn't want to lose my job. In my depressed mind, I felt that if I destroyed my career, the feelings of hopelessness would kill me.
When friends ask me, “How can you write a career column? How can you care THAT much about work?” I remind them how my work saved me. Work has been a mirror reflecting myself back to me, and my career has been the thing I ultimately sought to save by getting medical help for mental illness.
So for goodness sake, don't listen to Tom Cruise: Listen to yourself. Depression is a common, treatable illness. If you think you might have it, get medical help now.
And keep an eye on your coworkers. Someone in your office is depressed. He or she might be hiding from friends and family, but it's much harder to hide from work. Don't be afraid to recommend that person gets help — stepping up at work to say what you see just might save a life.