WASHINGTON, April 10, 2012 - When someone intelligent, forthright, aggressive, and respected lends their face to a subject slightly taboo, it makes a difference.
Mike Wallace did the mental health community a favor in 1996 by going public with his diagnosis of depression. Although there is still stigma attached to having any mental illness, Wallace’s admission made it clear that depression does not descend only upon the faint of heart, and that it can be treated.
Many of us are already aware of accomplished people who have struggled with a mood disorder. The most famous are Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. Two of Wallace’s friends, both well known in the publishing world, William Styron and Art Buchwald, lived with bouts of depressive symptoms throughout their productive lives.
By Wallace stating that the fear and pain of symptoms are “true when you’re in a bad clinical depression,” he validated people who struggle silently with symptoms for fear others will not believe their suffering is real.
It remains especially problematic though, to let the cat out of the mood-bag at work. People avoid using insurance benefits for treatment because they do not want a mental health diagnosis on any record related to their employment. This happens even in places where you think it would not.
One licensed clinical counselor, working at a community mental health center admitted, “I pay for my psychiatrist visits out of pocket. Although I work in a place that understands major depressive disorder, the agency’s funding is shrinking. My symptoms are well managed, but I don’t want to hand the center a reason to let me go.”
“I know it sound ridiculous, because it is. I fear the mental health agency where I work getting wind of my depression. It would be easy for the powers that be to associate any drop in my productivity to the diagnosis, when in fact my co-workers and I are drowning in mandated paperwork.”
It is a fact that employers need employees to be productive. If people with mood disorders, or other mental health issues, feel free to seek help, they will be productive. As with physical illnesses, employees will require a reasonable period of recovery time and will be managing chronic symptoms on the job, as does someone with diabetes.
Without detracting from Mike Wallace’s willingness to talk openly about his depression, most employees cannot admit their symptoms from on top of the work heap. However, that is why Wallace’s contribution to the demise of stigma is worth noting and appreciating. No one can say that depression prevents people from living astonishingly rich and productive lives.
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