In one of the many online eulogies to the great newsman Mike Wallace, it was noted that he suffered from severe clinical depression when he was about 60 years old – an episode severe enough that he tried to end his own life. In an interview with psychiatrist Jeffrey Borenstein on Healthy Minds, Wallace and his wife Mary discuss his suicide attempt and his 20 year struggle with depression. He discusses the pain of depression and it was obviously deeply moving for him to speak of it, his difficulty is apparent. He and his wife also speak of the stigma and ignorance that often stands in the way of getting help. The first time he reached out for help to his family physician, the doctor was not helpful and displayed terrible ignorance about the disease by being dismissive and denying it.
Roughly 5% of the population experiences a major depression characterized by helplessness, hopelessness despondency, sleep disturbance, and the inability to enjoy anything. It is described as “the most awful feeling, worse than cancer” and it is frequently accompanied by suicide attempts, a significant aspect of the disease.
The interview segment stresses how vitally important it is for families and close friends to intervene and urge the person who is suffering to get treatment and help. Often, the person who suffers from depression does not have the wherewithal, interest or energy to cope. By the same token, Mary Wallace speaks about the out-of-control feelings, the guilt, and the isolation that a spouse might feel, and stresses that it is important for a family member of a person suffering from depression to also get help.
The key takeaway is whether it is you or a loved one suffering: get help. Depression is treatable and treatment is quite effective, but it often requires the agency of a spouse, friend or family member to intervene. Wallace talks about the incredible feeling of relief from pain when medication took effect. His episodes were in 1982, and he lived 30 years of happy, productive life after getting help.
One of the other important takeaways is to intervene. Many people, like Wallace’s physician, have a tendency either to denial “You’re OK” or to thinking they can shame (“don’t be selfish”) or jolly (“come on, cheer up”) the person out of it, when that just adds to the burden of hopelessness the person experiences. As supervisors and people managers, if you see someone with a behavioral and performance change, you don’t need to diagnose it or treat it — and you shouldn’t try — you simply need to urge the employee to get help through the EAP.
- Signs of depression
- Depression screening
- Some facts about suicide and depression (PDF)
- National Suicide and Prevention Hotline: Are you in crisis? Call 1-800-273-TALK
- Quickly Treating Employee Depression Helps Workers
- Workplace Tools: The Depression Calculator
- The Secret Men Won’t Admit
ESI EAP offers help for depression for you or one of your immediate family members. If you are suffering from depression or you know someone who you think may be suffering from depression, your EAP can help. If you are employer that doesn’t have an EAP, call us at 800-535-4841.