Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Black Dog can be tamed

A good friend suffered a breakdown a few years ago.

At that time he worked as deputy Chief Finance Officer in a multi-million pound health service organisation. He was off work for several months and the general opinion among the ‘chattering classes’ in healthcare was that this was the end of his career and he would never reach the supposed ‘pinnacle’ in NHS finance of Chief Financial Officer.

Doubts were expressed whether he was ‘strong enough’ to reach the ‘top’ job.

The great news is not only did he return to work after a long spell of recuperation but he also reached that exalted position of Chief Financial Officer in another health service organisation. He is now enjoying a well earned retirement.

There are many issues arising out of this.

  • Mental health problems are non discriminatory – we are all susceptible to mental health problems.
  • Why do so many ‘macho school’ managers believe mental health problems in some way mean you are ‘soft’ if you are affected by them?
  • People who suffer mental health problems recover just like we recover from any illness.
  • To allow work to adversely affect our mental health in a negative way is not worth it. Life is about many things and work is just one of those things.
  • Sometimes it is better to just leave if you are suffering in that way, however difficult that may seem when we have bills to pay.

Mental health problems range from being sad through to problems that require hospital in-patient treatment. Depression is the single most well known mental health problem and when we look at the rich and famous who admit to suffering depression we see Sir Winston Churchill, Robbie Williams, John Cleese and Tom Peters to name but a few.

It illustrates, to me anyway, that people can still ‘perform’ at an amazingly high level professionally, despite occasionally being visited by the ‘Black Dog’ as Sir Winston famously called depression.

Logically therefore the same thing applies to us lesser mortals like my friend.

Instead of avoiding the subject or having stereotyped negative views about mental health problems, wouldn’t it be great if business could set an example and be positive about firstly accepting that many managers suffer from depression and other mental heath problems than to implicitly signpost those people as failures, soft or unable to reach the top?

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