Thursday, June 12, 2008

Business Week: The Analysis: Revelation Is Still a Risk

From Business Week:

Assess the situation before discussing depression with your supervisor and peers

In the 10 years since Diane Coutu came out to her current employer about her clinical depression, the only negative result she has experienced is her own occasional fear that her colleagues will react badly. So far, not one has.

Quite the opposite, Coutu, a senior editor at Harvard Business Review, has found supervisors and peers alike to be sympathetic and understanding. They make no big deal about her illness. And letting go of the secret has lifted a tremendous burden from her emotionally, making her job easier. Still, she concedes that the decision to go public doesn't necessarily make sense for everyone with depression.

Experts agree.

"It depends enormously on your employer's character and personality," says Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression (Scribner), a personal account of his own struggle with the illness and a study of depression in general. "Lots of people have their own madness, and that makes them uncomfortable with other people's illnesses."

Misunderstanding of the illness itself contributes to the risk of disclosing it. In her book Medical Myths That Can Kill You (Crown Publishers, 2008), Dr. Nancy Snyderman writes that many people still think of the need for antidepressants as a weakness. "We talk a good game about recognizing depression as a real illness, yet we still think people who suffer from it should be able to just 'buck up,'" Snyderman says. "You the employee really need to think this thing through before you tell your employer."

"If you feel your workplace in general is savage and backstabbing, you may not want to tell people about your depression," says Gabriela Cora, a psychiatrist and MBA who practices at the Florida Neuroscience Center in Fort Lauderdale.

Those who seek and receive successful treatment for a bout of depression aren't necessarily safe from workplace doubt afterward. "If you're up for promotion, there could be the legacy of people wondering, 'Is she going to have another episode?'" Solomon says.

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