In our daily lives we have important responsibilities. Many of us work very hard in order to make a living so that we can fulfil personal or professional goals. Unfortunately depression doesn't work to a schedule. It can strike at any time and when it does, it's very hard to think rationally. Being a victim of depression myself, I know what it feels like to face these demons whilst you are trying to fulfil important responsibilities. It's very easy to spiral out of control as you become frustrated by yourself and those around you.
Fortunately, many of my issues with depression have subsided. I have invested a lot of time in becoming more self aware, understanding the root of my problems and critically, how my mental health problems initiate and then escalate. This has allowed me to go back to work and continue my path towards having a successful career. This is a challenge when faced with:
- An overwhelming lack of self worth
- A habit of raising the bar of expectation upon myself (never satisfied)
- Being a perfectionist with a highly critical inner voice
- Being someone who judges other people by their own impossible to reach standards
- An incredible lack of patience and an inner anger that can get the better of me (all the while unable to deal with confrontation)
These are not particularly good traits to carry around with you and whilst virtually anyone I come across doesn't know I deal with this on a daily basis (some believe I am over confident would you believe), I work very hard not to let it get the better of me. So how? Well, we all deal with our issues differently. For me, I use humour as much as I possibly can. Whilst I have a lot of negative characteristics, I have always been able to laugh at myself. I am however notoriously bad at sharing my pain with other people and tend to close up and not let people in. I can laugh outwardly but my pain always remains inward. Not healthy and pretty exhausting.
Through the years I have received some incredible advice. Interestingly, I wasn't always ready to listen and understand what I was being told and the best advice tends to fall at precisely the right time. The advice I remember the most is:
- Don’t expect other people to change – change the way you interact with them
- The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results – Einstein gave me that one!
There is a theme here. Human behaviour – your own and sometimes other people's and understanding how that affects your mood. When you manage people, you are ultimately managing their growth and development as an employee and as a person. You cannot treat everyone the same way because we are not all the same. My management style tends to differ in terms of who I am dealing with. Sometimes, you need to challenge someone ("I bet you can't do this – prove me wrong"). Sometimes you need to put your arm round someone's shoulder ("you can do it, I believe in you"). Sometimes you need to offer support ("How can I help you overcome this obstacle?"). And sometimes you just need to leave people alone and let them get on with it.
When managing people who may or may not have mental health issues, it is very important to assess whether someone is ready to talk about their problems or whether they just need empathy and an ear to bend. I have done both with members of my team and its critical in my view that I always make myself available to work colleagues whether they need professional or personal support. I am never intrusive, but I hope they know they can come to me with anything and that I will not judge them. The growth of my business is extremely important to me, but then so are the people who put their heart and souls into their job. To me they are more than just work colleagues, they are family and I care about them deeply as individuals.
There are lines you need to be cautious of and of course, if I feel certain issues are beyond my control and perhaps a particular cause for concern, a good manager needs to know the differences between their responsibilities to the business and their responsibility toward their colleagues. I would never betray someones trust, but I would not hesitate in ensuring that safety and personal health is the number one priority. It is critical for managers to work very closely with their HR departments, or seek advice from the right channels in learning how to deal with mental health issues. Not everyone has experienced these problems themselves and its all too easy to mis-interpret some employees behaviours thinking them lazy, disruptive or a negative influence. This is why education is absolutely key and showing a willingness to learn human behaviours that don’t necessarily comply with your own. Personally, I find empathy and listening the two most effective management tools. If they don’t come naturally, learn them, they also help in your personal life. As a manager or leader, it is important to lead by example but don’t be afraid to show vulnerability. Business is all about people, and the more real you are with your colleagues or customers, the more people will respond to what you're selling.
I am not ashamed of what happened to me. I spent one year at The Priory dealing with my problems. I had ECT 16 times (a record I believe, yay me!), took a hell of a lot of meds, lost a good chunk of memory, and lost many friends along the way. If you had told me then I would be married (to a saint), father to a beautiful daughter, and running a mid sized business in a highly competitive environment I would have probably called for more meds. But it is possible. The one thing that's for sure, is that there are others just like you. And the other thing that's for sure, is that you can fix it.