Research has shown in recent times that Australians are amongst those who commit to the most overtime in their work in comparison with many western countries working societies across the world. It comes no surprise either then, that Australians use far less sick leave to address mental illnesses they suffer in comparison with our European friends.
In an audit conducted by IPSOS Australia of over 1000 Australians (including 32% being managers), between 16-64 years of age, results revealed:
- Almost double the number of Australians had not told their employer their depression was the reason for their time off, as compared with workers surveyed in Europe. Almost 1 in 2 who hadn’t informed their employer (48%) had felt they would put their job at risk if they told their employer the reason for time off
- The average number of working days that were taken by Australians diagnosed with depression, during their last episode was 6 days compared to 35.9 days reported by European workers – that’s less than double.
The existence of depression and anxiety is far more prevalent at senior levels of leadership than one might think, and that’s only taking into account the incidences that are recorded and documented.
Despite the education and awareness that is accessible today, there still exists a strong fear for those experiencing symptoms employees, senior managers and CEOs alike; unlike physical ailments, depression and anxiety have less ‘tangible’ indicators and sources for their development. Unlike the flu virus which can be identified under a microscope from a swab sample being taken, depression and anxiety can become host within an individual for reasons they often cannot identify or pinpoint.
There is no proven cause of depression. However, common catalysts for expression of depression symptoms include:
- from communication challenges
- workplace relationship clashes
- workplace culture conflict/misalignment
- conflicting ethics and values
- a toxic, non-supportive, negative environment
- receiving poor leadership
- bullying and harassment
- changes in the workplace (retrenchment, forced secondments etc.)
- unwanted role changes
- inadequate systems and processes to perform work at the required/desired levels
Significant Life Events
- death of a loved one
- separation and divorce
- separation from loved ones resulting from relocation (e.g. armed forces deployment)
- going from school/education institutions into the workforce
- career transition from armed forces into civilian workforce
- sexual and domestic abuse
- constantly getting colds and flu’s
- physical impairments resulting from an accident, fall, injury etc.
- diagnosis of a terminal illness or newly diagnosed permanent physical condition which requires permanent lifestyle adjustment and modifications
- experiencing chronic pain
- traumatic incident/episode work-related or non-work related
- perfectionist tendencies
- self-critical, negatively critical, low self-esteem
- higher sensitivity to receiving criticism
- greater tendencies to worry
- imposter syndrome
The experience of depression and anxiety for individuals is a unique experience from person to person. For senior leaders, CEOs and entrepreneurs some of the following indicators give clues:
- development of sleep disorders, waking and feeling extremely fatigued
- higher prevalence of suicidal thoughts and inability to identify why they feel this way
- relationship problems, arguments and disagreements become a regular feature, decreased libido and interest in sexual intimacy
- listlessness, significant loss in ability to make decisions, poor decision-making
- communication becomes less effective, in the workplace, at home and in social situations
- lower tolerance in situations requiring problem-solving
- anger outbursts in the workplace
- increase in substance abuse
- withdrawal and disengagement from work colleagues during working hours, work-related functions, but still working to keep busy; the overwhelming feeling that could arise when ‘sitting still’ could be too much to handle
- onset of panic attacks when there has been no history of these in the past
- loss of interest in exercise if exercising regularly was routine
- disinterest in family activities, withdrawing from family and social occasions and wanting to do so more than usual if opting out of social occasions is usually ‘normal’
For men and women, reaching out for help and support can be quite different. Generally speaking, the differences can look like this:
- More likely to reach out for support
- More apt to admit and share with others when feeling symptoms of depression and anxiety
- More apt to describe feelings of sadness, feeling worthless, not coping
- Less inhibited to express emotions
- More open to engaging in emotional expression activities such as journalling, writing, drawing
- More at ease connecting with support networks, groups and forming supportive alliances
- Less prone to identify and state something is ‘not right’
- Less likely to reach out for support
- Denial that something may not be right
- Can describe tangible changes such as weight loss/gain, sleeplessness, tiredness
- Disinterested in life in general
- Keeping busy with work
- Looking for more tangible, solution-based action to ‘fix’ the problem or imbalance
How to Handle Pressure at the Top
Choose to connect. Work with someone you do have confidence in and trust who can help you re-evaluate and determine what’s working for you in the current situation and mental state you find yourself in. Your ‘Alliance’ includes General Practitioners, Psychologists, Psychiatrists and support groups. These professionals are trained to help assess and reflect back to you where your current starting point is and work with you on what your next steps should be.
Re-evaluate & Re-prioritise.The idea behind this is to look at the things you can identify in your working life and social life that are working well, that you might still gain enjoyment from. These things now become a high priority if they weren’t seen as such before. The focus is to maintain active and engaged in those things which bring enjoyment. There is research that shows that doing this, aids rewiring of your brain’s mechanics to foster and develop more connections with those memories, cognitions and feelings that are good.
Audit Your Environment. With your brain’s trust alliance, review your environment around you. Your thoughts, values, behaviour, attitudes and perceptions are bombarded by so many things around you that you do not notice consciously, second to second.
When you are feeling symptoms of depression and/or anxiety, the way you perceive your world is likely to be different to when you are feeling well. Work with your alliance to do an audit of your surroundings and ask yourself:
- what are the influences in my environment that are conducive to my feeling the way I am right now?
- What do I identify as stressors, if any? People? Situations? Work systems? Material I read? Topics you watch on TV? Newsfeeds and podcasts you listen t? The books you read.
Work with your alliance to review what these are and identify if the way they show up in your life, can be changed. Different choices might need to be made here.