Robin Williams and the Pink Elephant at Work
We must bring to light a dark topic which most of us would rather avoid. It is more common and detrimental in the workplace than we care to admit, and likely each of us knows someone who suffers from its burden. It is raw and painful and most people would gladly keep it in the shadows, but it is also pervasive and powerful so we cannot ignore the pink elephant at work: Depression.
For the week following his suicide, Robin Williams’s tributes were a main topic of social media feeds which quickly gave way to ice bucket challenge videos, but let’s rewind the tape for a minute. The recent death of Robin Williams (1951—2014) has sparked an important conversation that deserves your attention as a leader and quite simply as a human being.
Depression affects more people than we know about because it is often a hidden struggle. The general public was shocked by the news that Robin Williams was experiencing an inner battle and ultimately chose to take his own life, but the wake-up call here is that there are more people just like him whose pain and suffering is silent. Depression can make people feel weak, disengaged, isolated, hopeless, void of value, and imprisoned by thoughts of desperation, which can have a negative impact on everyday functioning.
Leaders, take note! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- 18.8 million American adults will suffer from a depressive illness yearly.
- Approximately 80% of persons with depression reported some level of functional impairment and 27% reported serious difficulties in work and home life.
- In a 3-month period, persons with depression miss an average of 4.8 workdays and suffer 11.5 days of reduced productivity.
- Depression is estimated to cause 200 million lost workdays each year costing employers up to $44 billion.
Sometimes depression is severe. What are the warning signs and how can you help someone in an emotional crisis? If you manage people at any level, then you might face this enormous challenge among your staff. Broaching the subject is likely outside of your comfort zone but the American Psychological Association offers some guidance:
- Look for sudden changes in behavior (e.g. poor hygiene, weight change, social withdrawal)
- Reach out in a supportive and non-judgmental way. Listen more than you talk.
- Get professional help: consult your Human Resources department, reference your organization’s employee assistance program, or use the APA’s Psychologist Locator service.
- Intervene immediately if you suspect that someone is considering suicide. Trained crisis prevention counselors from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline are available at 1-800-273-TALK.
- Utilize available resources to help people who are struggling to cope after suicide.
Balance is paramount when addressing such a heavy and uncomfortable issue, so let us share and enjoy the laughter, lightheartedness, and life lessons of the man whose loss we mourn and whose memory we celebrate. I have always been fond of Robin Williams, and the 1989 film, Dead Poets Society, made a marked impression on me which I still appreciate 25 years later. Although depression may rob individuals of their ability to call upon their own internal resources to pursue their passions, those who are blessed with the capacity to do so, must seize the day and write their verse!
Every person has limitations and struggles, and every person has gifts and talents. As a leader in any aspect of life, can you truly recognize and accept this dichotomy of our human nature? Only then will you be able to contribute a verse to this powerful play that goes on and on.
What will your verse be?
About the Author:
Sarah is a Professional Services Intern at The Ken Blanchard Companies. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in Consulting Psychology, and her research is based on mindfulness. You can reach her at email@example.com.
Photo credit: pink elephant