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1. Senior managers don’t suffer from depression. Hardly true, although senior managers may be even more reluctant than others to disclose their illness. In today’s highly competitive, fast-moving business environment, rising expectations appear to be pushing even more senior managers toward depressive symptoms. In one ongoing study of managers suffering from depression, 18% of the sample were senior executives "with primary responsibility and control over resources."
2. Women suffer from depression more than men. Women reveal and report their depression more than men, but this may be a self-fulfilled expectation: Because women are anticipated to be depressed more often, women are freer to reveal their depression and more likely to be diagnosed as depressed. Also, a study has shown that more men actually suffer from depression than is reported or diagnosed. The danger in this often-cited myth is that it reinforces both disability and gender stereotypes of "weakness."
3. Return-to-work isn’t in an employee’s best interest. Just the opposite is true. Even for employees still receiving treatment, simple accommodations usually will make it possible to return employees to full or partial productivity. Employees benefit from feeling productive again, which actually assists in achieving rapid recovery.
4. Return-to-work endangers co-workers. Although most workers returning from mental disability leave pose no threat, workplace violence is a serious issue. To reduce the risk of workplace violence, employers should encourage disclosure and treatment of depression, other disorders, and substance abuse. Unreported and untreated mental health conditions, especially when substance abuse is involved, do create risk.
5. Substance abuse and depression are two separate problems. In fact, they often are related. MCC Behavioral Care’s research indicates that 50% of substance abusers had serious underlying depression. Depression sufferers try to medicate themselves, and often alcohol is the handiest drug. Alcohol, however, actually is a depressant and makes matters worse. Alcohol can trigger depression among those who may not be depressed if they begin drinking too much.
6. People with mental disabilities are incapable of succeeding in the workplace. In fact, most do quite well. For those who fail, the illness isn’t the reason. Success comes more quickly and failure rates drop through thoughtful and graduated return-to-work, with temporary accommodations until the employee can achieve full productivity.
7. Individuals suffering from mental health disabilities are weaker than others. These disabilities are diseases, which may have chemical and biological components. Most sufferers can be treated and return to normal work life.
Unfortunately, the "weakness" stigma often forces individuals to hide their illness, hurting them, their families, and their businesses. As soon as the employee can return to work, employers should focus on what they can do and not on the illness. Just as we would remove physical obstacles for someone in a wheelchair, assess what obstacles can be eliminated to help an employee suffering from depression to readjust.
8. Acknowledging mental health disabilities will open a floodgate of claims by moody people. This is a management and performance issue. What should a manager do in the case of a good employee whose job performance unaccountably begins to deteriorate and who shows other signs of distress? It is important to make a distinction between poor performance per se and the precursors and indicators of depression, anxiety-related disorders, and other mental health conditions. Like so many other aspects of effective management, training is necessary to help managers deal sensitively with depression and other illnesses before they become disabling.