The Reasons For, Symptoms of, and Treating Your Executives’ Depression

By Lekesha Campbell, Psy.D.

When confronted with the possibility that your executive is experiencing depression, here are a few points that might be worth touching on.

Some research suggests that the rate of depression in CEOs is double the national average, which is 6.7%.

CEOs are prone to depression for a few reasons:

1. The same personality traits that contribute to their success (i.e., high achievement drive, risk taking, desire for social recognition etc.) are predisposing factors for depression, particularly during times of stress. Personalities that are driven by achievements can make down turns and perceived failure unbearable . Often times CEOs may find themselves constantly looking for the next big win, comparing themselves to others vs. appreciating their own success, and always feeling under the gun to innovate and grow their organizations in an increasingly competitive landscape.

2. There are few people who understand what it is like to live in their world. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and a pattern of isolating from potential sources of support.

3. Seeking treatment is often prolonged as depression is often minimized or mislabeled as par for the course and normal stressors of the job. Many CEOs fear that acknowledgement of depression or seeking treatment can adversely impact their credibility.

4. CEOs are likely to cope with depression by working harder and faster. While research shows that for high achievement oriented people, working long and hard releases our bodies natural pleasure chemicals (dopamine), engaging in this pattern long-term can have negative physical, emotional and psychological effects. When in overdrive mode, CEOs are likely to become sleep deprived, focus on doing a lot vs. conserving their time and energy for what’s most important, are likely to spend less time engaging in things outside of work that are potential sources of pleasures (i.e., hobbies, time with family and friends) and are less likely to recognize signs of depression or the need for help.

Signs of Depression:
1. Personality changes. For example, extroverted CEO is holding less meetings, spending more time alone in their office, appearing drained or bogged down after engaging with others.

2. Putting more pressure than usual or culturally appropriate for the organization to move faster. Experienced by others as demanding and disruptive.

3. Diminished/disheveled physical appearance.

4. Disorganization, missing important deadlines, responding to critical issues in a timely manner or appearing more forgetful and unfocused.

5. Irritability and lack of patience with others.

6. Holding down the fort, but engaging in poor decision-making.

7. Risk aversion—avoiding all decisions/situations that may lead to a temporary set backs

8. Absence of work like balance (huge indicator)

What to do:

1. Resist the urge to go into overdrive, workaholic mode. While this may feel good in the short-run, in the long-run you would be better served by taking this time to slow down, reengage with enjoyable activities and people outside of work, and focus on the small rather than the big wins.

2. Let your family or trusted friends in, let them know how you are feeling, the stress you are under, and how they can be of support.

3. Seek treatment-rather than going for the quick fix (i.e., medication from your PCP), make time for therapy. Therapy and medication combined is more effective in treating depression than medication alone.

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