We all know someone who has a story of depression. It could be a neighbor or a childhood friend. It could be a story of the returning vet, the family physician, or a colleague from work. Perhaps it is a story that is closer to home: of a cousin, an uncle, a brother or sister, a grandparent, a father, a mother, a child. Or maybe it is our own.
Depression is the primary cause of suicide in the United States. Children and teens are especially vulnerable, as suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages five to 24. Every thirteen minutes another suicide occurs, leading to well over 41,000 a year. As startling as this statistic is, experts warn it may be lower than the actual number of suicides per year. Due to the persistent stigma attached to depression, many of those struggling with the illness do so in shame and silence, and many deaths by suicide go unreported.
Simply put, depression is a national public health crisis in the United States and the world's number one cause of disability. Over 350 million people suffer from depression worldwide. Aside from incalculable human suffering, the cost to society is massive. The economic toll of depression on businesses in the United States is $100 billion annually, of which $23 billion alone are due to lost work days.
Everybody has a story. Yet as a society we are falling short in addressing the epidemic or even talking about it. That's why I started the Hope for Depression Research Foundation eleven years ago to spur brain research and raise awareness. Today, our Depression Task Force of top neuroscientists is conducting the most advanced depression research in the country. They have three new compounds in pilot clinical trials, each of which represent a new way to treat depression. The field has not seen a new category of antidepressants in over thirty years.
"The first steps to a healthy mind and body are to get enough sleep, eat properly, and exercise, whether you do or don't have depression. Every health professional will emphasize these three pillars of mental health. Here's to hope in your future."
We also need to move the dial on our national conversation about depression. We've got to get the word out faster and farther than we ever have before. For those who suffer from mind-brain illness, understanding what they're going through is the first step. The second is finding people to talk to. We need public education and widespread discussion so that those who need it are empowered to seek help, and those who encounter the illness in a friend or loved one have the necessary understanding and compassion to offer meaningful support.
The signs and symptoms below can indicate depression when they are present nearly every day for at least two weeks:
- Sad or crying unexpectedly
- Anxious or irritable
- Loss of interest, pleasure
- Hopeless or helpless
- Low energy, fatigue
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Loss of appetite or weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating
- Aches or pains with no clear physical cause
- Thoughts of suicide
Men may show additional symptoms of depression, such as: womanizing, gambling, drinking excessively, and belligerence. Experts believe that when these symptoms are taken into account, just as many men have depression as women.
If you notice any of these symptoms in someone close to you, here are some suggestions on how you can help:
- Offer an ear: Ask questions and listen to the answers. If you haven't suffered from depression, it can be difficult to understand what it's like, so go easy on the advice.
- Gently suggest getting a doctor's help: If your loved one isn't getting help from either a medical doctor or a therapist, gently suggest that he or she seek help. The first step is to see a primary care physician.
- Form a community: Rally other friends or family members to help support the person with depression. It's hard to take it all on your own shoulders.
- Learn about your loved one's treatment plan: If you're involved in the person's care, make sure you know what the treatment plan is. If possible, have the person give permission to his or her doctor to communicate with you.
- Finally, if someone you know is suicidal, immediately call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911.
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.