Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Molly Wright Steenson (explode) Sat 16 Mar 02 11:02
I've got a question to open up to this conference -- I'd like to hear more of your experiences with depression in the workplace. What caused it? What did you do to combat it?
Marla Porter (marla) Sat 16 Mar 02 19:36
1. Think of only what is in front of me so I won't get overwhelmed (as was mentioned upthread). 2. Really fiercely work to do a good job, to not make mistakes. I'm VERY painstaking during a depression when I'm at work. The sense that I've "screwed something up" Or "I missed this" or "I missed that"---is dangerous for me. Very important that when I get home I've given myself nothing to worry about. It's exhausting, when I get home that IS IT, short phone calls are usually too much. And not that it isn't important to do a good job all the time...just that during depression that sense is more super-charged because the idea of adding to worthless kinds of feeling is way too dangerous. And to give myself a small sense of accomplishment helps a little. I'd rather be really tired than fuel the depression with worry and anxiety.
Linda Castellani (castle) Sat 16 Mar 02 19:53
Oh! It's that worry when you get home that kills me. I can get home and obsess over details of the day until I'm ready to drill a hole through the planet and stuff myself in it. I'll get home, be tired, but fine. Sit down in front of the TV and start to decompress and a random thought goes by like a shooting star and suddenly I'm rigid with worry.
Molly Wright Steenson (explode) Sun 17 Mar 02 09:04
I'm going to open up the discussion a little bit here-- Fawn and Beth, you've both been able to look at the modern workplace through some interesting filters, both by writing this book and through your own careers. I'd love to hear your perspectives on it -- not just about dealing with depression, but on how you've seen it change, and how it really is.
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Sun 17 Mar 02 16:01
I'll be back soon to pontificate and blither -- just want to note that Beth is kind of swamped right now but will be along shortly.
Sam Delson (samiam) Sun 17 Mar 02 21:02
Fawn and Beth, congratulations on a great job. I don't think "enjoyed" is the proper word, but I found Working in the Dark to be very useful. How long did you work on the book? How did your perception of the problems associated with working while dealing with depression change over that period? I find that whenever I undertake a big project, it seems like a moving target -- as soon as I ans a major question or reach a goal on it, I discover more questions and complexities that I'd never conceived of earlier. (that should be "answer,", not "ans," above).
Beth Gulas (bethgulas) Sun 17 Mar 02 21:55
Molly...As a consultant to organizations typically around human dynamics (culture change, building teams, coaching execs, etc) that people are more and more depressed. There is an extremely broad range of triggers for this: downsizings, market shifts, pressure to perform especially after the IPO (oh, now we have to satisfy our shareholders too?), doing more with less, the sense that organizations have no loyalty, etc.. However, I believe more strongly that a lot why people are depressed in the workplace is because we (meaning our society "we") are quite inept at effective communication. Our leaders/bosses/co-workers don't give us feedback, we don't know when we're doing a good/bad job and/or why, corporate cultures are conflict averse (so tough stuff doesn't get resolved...just festers) to name a few. Simply put, we just don't communicate very well and this causes much room for imagination. In the absence of information, we'll make it up. If you have a tendency to be depressed, what you make up isn't going to feel very good. And thus, begins or continues a vicious cycle. I'm not implying that better communication is the only answer, but it's most certainly a huge one. On the other hand, although the occurrence of depression has increased, the ability to talk about it and to have some degree of confidence that it will be addressed for you on a personal level within your job/company has become easier. There's still a huge chasm between depression occurring in the workplace and it being accepted in the workplace. Our book will hopefully be able to shorten the chasm. Sam...Fawn and I worked on the book for approximately one year (give or take). I believe our perception of the problem became more reinforced and validated as we journeyed through writing this book. If anything, I think it's made us even more convicted in our respective beliefs about how important this issue is. And, hopefully, our book is a way of giving back to millions of sufferers.
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Mon 18 Mar 02 11:16
Sam, it took us almost exactly a year to write the book, but the whole process took quite a bit longer than that. I got the idea for the book in mid-1996 and approached Beth to work with me a few months later. It took us several months to put together a detailed proposal, which we then sent around to agents. We got an agent, she began to send the proposal around to publishers, and then she died. (No, really, I'm not kidding. She hadn't been returning my phone calls and I didn't find out why until I opened the New York Times and read her obituary.) So that brings us to mid-1997. We sent the proposal around again and signed on with a new agent, who began shopping it aggressively to publishers. Got a lot of feedback along the lines of, "Great idea, fantastic, really well-written proposal, but we don't think there's a market for it." (In what universe is 11 million people not a good market?) In early 1998, our agent told us she was putting the proposal on the shelf for a while to see if things would change while it was out of circulation. At that point, I think we had both resigned ourselves to never writing the book. We both moved on to other projects. And then one day in May 1999 I got a call from the agent saying that one of the publishers that had previously passed on the proposal had called her back to make an offer. I immediately called Beth and said, "Hey, wanna write a book?" And here we are!
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Mon 18 Mar 02 11:34
As for my thoughts on the modern workplace: In the early '90s, people seemed to be shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, that the employer/employee contract (i.e. "you do a good job for us and we'll do well by you") had withered so quickly and dramatically. Ten years later, the very notion of that contract seems quaint and almost naive. Today, everyone seems to be waiting for the other shoe to drop, knowing it's coming -- maybe not immediately, but inevitably. It's like an endless, systemic anxiety attack. Mind you, I haven't had a "real" job since the depths of the last recession, when I was 23 years old and got laid off from a dying newspaper. Other than brief stints as a contractor, I've been working predominantly from a home office for more than 11 years now. So all of my experiences with the working world have been through that filter. I've come to the conclusion that I'd rather be an independent, with all the issues that entails -- fluctuating income, the never-ending marketing, the need to provide your own health insurance, the potential for isolation, etc. -- than go back to being an employee whose economic survival is entirely dependent on a single employer who couldn't care less about me.
Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 18 Mar 02 12:33
I wonder if the rate of depression in the workplace is greater now than it was in the days when people went to work for one employer, stayed for 25 or 30 or 35 years, retired and got a pension. I don't suppose that there is any sort of statistical tracking for this?
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Mon 18 Mar 02 12:44
I don't think there's any tracking of depression specifically as it relates to the workplace, period.
Molly Wright Steenson (explode) Mon 18 Mar 02 17:29
Fawn, how do you cope with those fluctuations? I've decided recently that me being the point of flux is better than a company being the point of flux (after getting laid off twice last year, I'd rather have it be my fault than anyone else's).
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Tue 19 Mar 02 14:26
>I've decided recently that me being the point of flux is better than a company being the point of flux I like that. There's a book called "You, Inc." (I think) that takes off from that premise. Which brings me to a question -- how do you see the whole business of finding meaning in the workplace ("reinventing work") relating to workplace depression? Have you encountered people for whom being depressed seemed like an appropriate response to their situation? Like the first step on a path toward deeper discovery? Would you ever be willing to argue that the "depressed" individual in a particular setting is the one exhibiting the most sane response of any of them?
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Tue 19 Mar 02 19:09
Absolutely, we've encountered such people, and not only are we willing to make that argument, we spent an entire chapter on it. And we concluded by advising readers in an actively dysfunctional solution to do all they can to get out -- even if it means a temporary pay cut. No paycheck is worth your mental health.
Eleanor Parker (wellelp) Tue 19 Mar 02 19:47
Has anyone successfully used the ADA to sue for wrongful termination because of depression?
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Tue 19 Mar 02 20:46
That's kinda what I was getting at with the question about 9/11, too. There are times when it's *normal* to be not 100%, and I see employers pressuring individuals to not be fully human, in a way. My employer's HR person, after 9/11, posted a cheery message about the availability of short-term counseling for anyone who was still troubled. This was no more than a week later. It wasn't phrased *quite* that badly, but almost. I consider it *healthY to be still troubled by that a week later (although not to the point of total paralysis or anything.) It was just sort of surreal.
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Tue 19 Mar 02 21:17
<scribbled by fsquared Wed 20 Mar 02 19:52>
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Wed 20 Mar 02 19:53
Actually, let me rephrase that: I am quite sure people have successfully used the ADA to protect themselves against workplace discrimination due to depression, but I don't have any exact figures. I do know that in the most recent statistics I can find (1999), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which administers most parts of the ADA, received 2,858 complaints about discrimination as a result of mental illness, and more than half of those complaints had to do with depression.
Molly Wright Steenson (explode) Thu 21 Mar 02 07:32
Thanks for sharing that. It would be interesting to see what happens in the next decade with the ADA and depression. Despite the stigmas against it, it's definitely been discussed much more in the media and the press. Oddly enough, the other night, I was watching VH-1 (it was a sleepy kind of night) and I saw both Sheryl Crow talk about her continual bouts of depression, and Billie Joe Armstrong (singer of Green Day) discuss that he didn't know what it was till he was older, but he has always suffered from panic attacks, and he just thought it meant he was going insane. It seems like we've maybe begun to turn a corner if our rock stars (and not just Tipper Gore) are willing to be out about chronic depression and anxiety disorders. I'm thinking of how a fifteen year old with panic attacks might feel if she learned her favorite fun-punk singer had the same attacks that she did. She'd probably feel reassured in some way.
the invetned stiff is dumb (bbraasch) Thu 21 Mar 02 08:45
Kids listen to the lyrics. It's all there. It's still not an easy thing for them to bring up with adults though.
Mary Elizabeth Williams (marybeth) Thu 21 Mar 02 10:03
(waving) I had to come in and say hello here and sing the praises of my byline cohost, Ms. Fawn. And betsys, I do think it's interesting seeing how employers appear to be reacting to 9/11 in relation to "distance from ground zero" more than almost anything else I can figure out. You related your employer's experience. My husband, who works in the West Village, had to attend a group session with a counselor, and was given a most peculiar "So you've had a traumatic event at your workplace" brochure outling signs of PTS and depression. My stepfather, whose business was in the WTC and lost several employees, has had to undergo much more rigorous company mandated procedures. And a number of his coworkers are still out on disability for stress related disorders. It's great that his employer has been so vigiliant about wanting to help the staff, but it's disheartening to think that to get that kind of attention you need to have been in the building. Fawn, have you received any response yet from people interested in your book specifically because of 9/11? I'd think the need for a guide like this couldn't be more timely.
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Thu 21 Mar 02 11:32
Hi, MB! I'm glad you came by! Shortly after 9/11, Beth got a phone call from someone who'd found our web site (http://www.workinginthedark.com) and wanted to interview her about how the attacks had affected employees emotionally. She and I discussed it, and at the time we concluded that what people were probably dealing with was not depression, but Post Traumatic Stress Disorder -- something we didn't feel we were qualified to discuss, especially since we were feeling pretty raw ourselves. So she turned down the interview request. We haven't yet gotten any other response directly related to 9/11, but now that a little time has passed and I've had a little time to reflect, I think the book is appropriate in some ways and not in others. PTSD manifests itself in *very* different ways from depression, so the parts of the book dealing with coping skills aren't directly relevant. However, everything we say about people's rights under the law and how to deal with discrimination applies as much to PTSD -- or, indeed, to any mental health issue -- as it does to depression. So when we do get those responses (and I expect we will), that's what we'll say. That being said, even though it goes against my every instinct as a freelancer accustomed to working every possible marketing angle, I personally am not going to go out of my way to draw a link between depression in the workplace and the events of 9/11. I just have a visceral distaste for the idea.
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Thu 21 Mar 02 13:44
That's very true, about PTSD. I wonder, though, as you go farther from NYC how much of it is PTSD and how much of it is more like depression or anxiety, worry about the world and the future and the job market and such....?
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Thu 21 Mar 02 19:55
I'm not sure there's any way of knowing -- although I think it's pretty fair to say that someone in Ohio who's never been to New York and knows no one there probably isn't suffering from PTSD as a result of 9/11.
Molly Wright Steenson (explode) Thu 21 Mar 02 22:18
But it's odd to realize that much of NYC seems to be either suffering from PTSD or depression -- and certainly anxiety. How frequently do things like this happen in the American workplace?
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