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26 April 2012updated 22 Oct 2020 3:55pm

My business head hurts

The ‘depression stigma’ is costing British business billions.

By Ruby Wax

As the UK economy slips back into recession, it’s almost possible to hear the collective sigh of the country, fearing for their jobs, their futures. It is of course a technicality. Not a lot has changed since yesterday but it’s a great media story and one that will ripple across the UK business community, questioning its fragile confidence and prodding its stomach to see if it is made of stern stuff that can cope with bad news.

Of course no entrepreneur or business leader worth their salt would cave under the pressure. Unthinkable. But what about the staff? What about the people that make the business tick, that sell and create and organise? What if they cannot cope? What if they have a sea of problems at home and this news, leading to a fear of redundancy, is the final straw? Do they need to just buck-up and carry on?

Depression costs British businesses £9bn a year in potential lost earnings (All Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics – Dec 2011) yet there is a stigma attached to depression and stress that is seemingly hard to shift.

Depression is one of those terms that is perhaps a little over-used. We’ve all done it and all heard it. Most people have at some point talked about “being depressed”, usually about the weather, but there is a belief, particularly within business, that it’s just an excuse to get off work for a bit. This has a knock-on effect. Depression is not taken seriously and real sufferers can be ignored and sometimes bullied.

It’s not just a British problem either. Earlier this month some statistics emerged from the World Health Care Conference claiming that mental health issues cost North America and Europe about four per cent of their combined domestic product, or $1.3 trillion each year. It also reported that 90 per cent of all mental health issues relate to depression and approximately 18 per cent of people in the workforce are currently battling depression.

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Those are big statistics but they will do little to convince the sceptics. However it is quite clear that depression at work, whether you believe in it or not can lead to poor business performance. Brushing it under the carpet only exacerbates the problem and can lead to lost business opportunities and revenues.  That’s surely a language any business can understand.

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Interestingly last year, Jo Swinson MP tabled a number of early day motions in Parliament to promote well-being, including a proposal to improve access to psychological therapies. She proposed a motion that the House “regards depression as a serious condition that can profoundly diminish a person’s wellbeing and recognises that psychological cognitive-behavioural therapy is an effective and scientifically validated form of treatment.”

It’s essentially why we set up Black Dog Tribe, to provide a sort of social therapy platform, where sufferers and carers can share experiences and hopefully help each other. What was really most healing for me when I had depression was meeting my own people, my tribe. It’s important to know you’re not alone and there is a kind of comfort in knowing that you both feel like the walking dead. It’s also such a relief to be with someone who will never say, “Perk up.”

These are small steps we are taking but what is ultimately the root cause for many people is individual business culture.  Not all businesses behave the same but where there is a culture of high octane sales and a need to impress the boss 24/7 with lots of success charts and high fives, the pressure can often be telling.

It was interesting to see the Bergen Work Addiction Scale’ get some publicity recently. It looks at the kind of behaviour that is displayed by all kinds of addicts but related to the workplace. Work addiction is getting worse, according to the scale because the boundaries between home and office are becoming blurred, which leads to increased stress and in some cases breakdown. Surely these things are common sense? Businesses are as good as the people driving them but if you don’t look after your drivers you are going to crash.