Should CEOs share their own mental health struggles?

Should CEOs share their own mental health struggles?

Should CEOs share their own mental health struggles?

A number of studies have suggested CEOs are at a greater risk of mental illness than the average worker yet relatively few ever speak openly about their experiences – now, one leadership coach is pushing for change.

“There is nothing better to reduce workplace stigma than someone’s boss saying they’ve felt depression or they’ve suffered anxiety but they’ve managed to get help,” says Dennis Miller – a former CEO turned strategic leadership coach.

“Anxiety and depression are big issues and we need to makes sure executives and the C-suite are aware of it, are honest about it, are dealing with their own illnesses and have a culture of acceptability and removing a stigma,” he continues.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated one in four people will be affected by a mental illness at some point in their lives and around 450 million people currently suffer from at least one, placing mental illness among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

However, despite the widespread prevalence, nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help from a health professional and research from WHO suggests stigma and discrimination is largely to blame.

Miller admits he too has been stigmatized in the past but chose to share his own struggles with mental illness in his autobiography – ‘Moppin’ Floors to CEO’ – and says if other leaders could do the same, it would go a long way towards convincing staff that they can still be successful even if they’ve suffered from a psychological condition.

“We still have this perception that depression and anxiety are character flaws, that somehow it’s our fault, that we did something to ourselves – but it’s not – it’s a chemical imbalance and it can be treated,” says Miller.

“We’ve got to make people aware that if you are suffering from a mental illness it’s no different than if you were suffering from diabetes or high blood pressure,” he continues.

“We need to be honest and supportive – it’s a part of life, we all struggle but nobody should suffer alone.”

3 Comments
  • Linda Corkum 2017-02-27 9:32:10 AM
    The stigma surrounding mental illness runs deep. Most people struggling with mental illness do so in silence, regardless of their role in the workplace. We have learned that most people are more apt to open up about their own personal stories and journeys when they learn of someone else's challenges and successes, especially if it is from someone they know.
    Post a reply
  • Reliable Employee 2017-02-27 4:22:28 PM
    I worked for small mental health organization where the Executive Director had mental health issues.

    She never admitted to it but we all knew, especially since we all had lived experience...She never came clean but when she would have an episode we stayed out of her way until it passed.

    Seemed like a double standards to me, the org was a mental health advocate working toward breaking down stigma...yet the leader of the org was ashamed of her own personal struggle with mental health...
    Post a reply
  • Michael Newton 2017-03-01 2:42:41 PM
    It is the responsibility of Leaders to sensitize their team to mental health issues - be it for management, understanding, empathy, treatment, support, etc... As Managing Partner of a 100+ person Firm in Montreal, anxiety, depression, OCD etc have been part of my life for decades, it took me a long time to face the issue, and then 5 years to 'own up' to our team.

    The team building/trust that has been established by being transparent and open has worked wonders for STARTING to remove the stigma. I think all leaders need to be open and aware, not only of the effects of their behavior on others, but also on the 'human element' that comes with owning up to illness - no one is afraid to say they have cancer today - why should I be embarrassed to say that I have struggled with anxiety and depression?

    I am very successful, and at times these 'curses' have driven me forward to perform and surpass those who do not face their own reality. I am proud to say that I cope and conquer - but the reality is I will deal with it all my life.

    I am highly functioning, highly aware and highly transparent...and highly proud of helping to reverse the negativity of illnesses that will only get worse in our workplace, before they get better

    Michael Newton
    Post a reply