The Dreaded D Word

Deciding whether to write this piece has taken a lot of thought and a lot of arguments in the mirror, but in 2018 should we still be stigmatising mental health or openly talking about it?
As a business owner, mentor, public speaker many will probably be surprised to know that I have battled depression for the best part of 3 years. My closest friends and family know the daily battle I face. It first affected me back in 1997 when training with Deloittes in Guernsey (when it was definitely not something to talk publicly about). Back then it was a quick visit to the doctors and course of Prozac prescribed to you to keep your feelings and issues under control and keep you on that even keel.
Fast forward to 2015 and due to many health issues and pressures of work, I felt the need to visit the doctor again. Three years on and it is still a battle and I am still classed as depressed and need medication to keep me grounded. Am I ashamed? No. Do I feel weak? Not anymore. Many just don’t get it and tell you to shake yourself off, get up and dressed and get on with it. Those that have suffered, and recent stats show that 1 in 4 now suffer with some form of mental health problems know the daily battle you face.
Being the face of a company, an employer and with over 500 clients relying on you and your services can obviously impact on you and your state of mind.
So, whilst having a duvet day as I contemplated my mental state, yet again, I did some research because it would appear that there are more business leaders than you would expect that suffer this debilitating illness.
Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Diana Princess of Wales and Winston Churchill to name but a few. Lawton Chiles, the former governor of Florida won the gubernatorial election even after the public was made aware of his use of Prozac to treat clinical depression.
However interestingly, Nassir Ghaemi, a Tufts University psychiatry professor, in an article in The Wall Street Journal said that mentally healthy people make fine leaders when times are good and the challenges are easy, but “in times of crisis and tumult, those who are mentally abnormal, even ill, become the greatest leaders. We might call this the Inverse Law of Sanity.”
He pointed out that the perfectly competent and sane Neville Chamberlain, prime minister of England, couldn’t handle the approach of World War II, and had to relinquish leadership to the manic-depressive and sometimes suicidal Winston Churchill. Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr., also showed signs of serious mental instability and were greater leaders than any normal people could have been, Ghaemi said. Likewise in business: “The sanest of CEOs may be just right during prosperous times, allowing the past to predict the future. But during a period of change, a different kind of leader—quirky, odd, even mentally ill—is more likely to see business opportunities that others cannot imagine.”
So why is this?
“Normal” nondepressed persons have what psychologists call “positive illusion”—that is, they possess a mildly high self-regard, a slightly inflated sense of how much they control the world around them.
Mildly depressed people, by contrast, tend to see the world more clearly, more as it is.
Great crisis leaders are not like the rest of us; nor are they like mentally healthy leaders. When society is happy, they toil in sadness, seeking help from friends and family and doctors as they cope with an illness that can be debilitating, even deadly. Sometimes they are up, sometimes they are down, but they are never quite well.
When traditional approaches begin to fail, however, great crisis leaders see new opportunities. When the past no longer guides the future, they invent a new future. When old questions are unanswerable and new questions unrecognized, they create new solutions. They are realistic enough to see painful truths, and when calamity occurs, they can lift up the rest Their weakness is the secret of their strength.
Ghaemi illustrated his thesis with details from the careers of Lincoln and Churchill. Does the theory suggest that George W. Bush may have been too cheerfully normal to recognize the hazards of plunging into two wars at once?
The reality is that 1 in 4 people will suffer from depression or some form of mental illness in their lifetime. When you consider 9 out of 10 start ups will fail and the pressure in leading a business, it’s no surprise that depression rates amongst co-founders, entrepreneurs, leaders and employees in start-ups is high. In a recent survey of 242 entrepreneurs surveyed, 49 percent reported having a mental health condition. That’s 1 in 2, double the rate of the average population!
So my advice? Don’t beat yourself up about it. Talk about it, you are not alone and you would be surprised at just how many are in the same boat as you.