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Managers on Anti-Depressants/Anti-Anxiety Meds – A Radical Angle on Workplace Stress

Posted by Dr. Holly Latty-Mann on

One out of four women in their 40s and 50s takes anti-depressants. This means if you are a woman reading this, you could be reading about yourself as well as quite a few of your female coworkers, your children’s teachers, etc.  The New York Times reported on this topic after the study was published in the Journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics almost three years ago.  There is no reason to believe that this statistic has improved. Because research has shown that men are more inclined to turn to alcohol to manage depressing stress, their percentages are a mere one out of ten. Still, that’s a lot of psychotropic medication within the corporate world.

So what are the implications for managers “on drugs”? The radical angle I present is related to a little known fact about the paradoxical effects of anti-depressants. As a licensed clinical psychologist (internship at Duke Medical Center), I also wish to speak to a better way to reclaim your smile and joy without the use of psychotropic medication.

Few people realize that while anti-depressants can numb the edge off of despair, they also numb one’s capacity to experience joy.  Ever thought about what that does to one’s authenticity as a leader? It’s nearly impossible to exude the same level of inspirational, motivational leadership while taking psychotropics. Something “flat” within the personality seems to find its way into conversations and discussions. People sense when one is not 100%, and this interferes with eliciting their full trust.

Here’s some good news:  2/3 of people taking anti-depressants actually don’t fit the diagnosis for major depression, thereby suggesting perhaps there is a better way to treat perceived depressive stress.  Before describing the “fix,” here is a true-story precursor:

I experienced a serious depression decades ago during my junior year in college after breaking up with the man I thought I would marry. Interestingly, I never took a psychotropic to alleviate my distress, perhaps because nobody suggested such a thing.

What I did was simply “fake happiness”. Keep reading. You must appreciate that I was so depressed if I saw someone I knew on the same side of the street, I would cross to the other side, given I felt I did not have the energy to engage in a phony, spirited greeting or idle chatter.

You see, the brain doesn’t know a real smile from a phony one. All it knows is to secrete endorphins into your blood stream when the ends of your mouth go upward. I therefore forced myself to appear happy and chipper, all the while feeling like a big phony fake.

However, a wondrous thing happened. Everyone treated me as if I were “normal”. Once I made up my mind to stay on the same side of the street and engage people, I would simply remind myself that nobody really could tell what was going on inside of me.

It was mere weeks before I was back to “genuinely normal”!

So the better way to reclaim your earlier state of happiness is to focus on others’ experience of themselves in your presence.  This entails mindfully managing others’ perceptions of you until the process of doing so becomes an unconscious, natural way of engaging others. This is akin to what I call cultivating a “social knowingness”.

As harsh as it may sound, depressed people tend to be selfish. That’s because they can become consumed with how they are coming across to others for the sake of image rather than for the sake of creating a meaningful human connection or having others experience themselves positively due to nothing more than the authentic, trustworthy nature of the exchange.

The change process or self-improvement process is easier than most people realize. We’ve become a society of quick fixes, but nothing is more “fixable” than the non-pharmaceutical route as described herein. And the by-products can’t be measured in dollars and cents, but rather in family fun and harmony as well as collaborative teamwork and team play.

Note. As a disclaimer, obviously there are times when anti-depressants (and anti-anxiety medications) represent an appropriate treatment plan for the person in question; however, this article speaks unequivocally to the abuse of psychotropic medication and the negative implications for managers at work and at home.