Ken Matthews

I have been an interested bystander in the wider discussion regarding depression for many years. I have had many staff report to me over my career and I have noticed behaviours that to the amateur seem to be depression or anxiety. These people have the symptoms that seem increasingly obvious, and although I tried, I have had very few work conversations regarding depression (for others or myself). There is a serious social stigma with publicly discussing depression or anxiety. And this much change for us all.

For years as a leader I have tried to be aware of my staff and their issues but as an engineer and ESTJ, I realise that I start behind the curve with low emotional intelligence and a lack of natural ability to share emotions (as an engineer and a man). For the last 8 years I have had roles that are usually high stress working on or with boards. Executives and boards tend be older, stuck in their ways and very low on emotional intelligence. As a result, I have never seen anyone admit to or discuss depression. And this must change from the top down.

Early in my career I noticed changes in myself, not feeling worthy, having deep lows when faced with a small setbacks, not sleeping and certainly not enjoying life. There is a social limitation that we don't discuss depression, we suffer in silence, we don't naturally share, we don't address our issues and we use a disproportionate amount of energy keeping up a public facade. Now that my career is nearing its end I can openly admit this. Only in the last five years have I had a formal diagnosis, and medical support. And my wife has always been supportive over and above what anyone could expect.

It's not that brave to admit I have had issues at this stage of my career as no one can do anything to me anymore, and I would not have been open to share if my career was still in full swing. I doubt the people I worked for over my career would have been supportive, in fact I can guarantee I would not have achieved what I have if I had been open about my issues. And this must change.

If you are suffering in silence please discuss it with your loved ones, get support and share your story with others, I wasted years ignoring what was going on inside me. If you think a loved one is hurting, check in with them. If you lead people, depression is a fact of life for a large number of people, don't fear it in others, offer support. Everyone has a role in this change.

A change in all of our approaches to mental health will not only create a better society for all but more efficient and productive work environments.

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Shared with the 'Glass Half Full Community' by Anthony, in response to Ken's open and candid comments:

I empathise with Ken's comments regarding the difficulties in holding genuine and worthwhile discussions in the workplace regarding depression. As a management consultant, principally concerned with workplace behaviour, I have had the opportunity of working with a plethora of businesses over the last 20 odd years, many of which have displayed similar symptoms to that which Ken describes.

It doesn't only happen in the workplace however; depression, until recent years, held a stigma which quite simply made it almost taboo to discuss, particularly among men and their related social and family circles.

I am happy to say, however, that I am working with one business currently, who have taken active and affirmative steps to rectify the situation.

This particular client is a multinational corporation and have recently emplaced a 'Mental Health Ambassador' within their company. This staff member has openly admitted to having depression and has addressed his colleagues on a number of occasions regarding his personal 'journey'. This has been met with widespread and positive feedback and has resulted in another 13 staff coming forward and admitting to their own battles with the 'black dog' - something they would not have done had he not been in place.

The company has also invested in Employee Assistance schemes to assist those in need. In my eyes, it's a very brave and positive move and the staff have really adopted the scheme, leading to increased staff engagement as well as more productive employees, simply because the company has shown it is interested and it cares.

Hopefully it's the start of a trend towards openness and empathy for our fellow human beings who are dealing with this every day.

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