Why business owners don't talk about depression

And how we can start the conversation 🗨

In this week’s newsletter, I am returning to a topic I wrote about back in 2018: it’s just not cool to be depressed.

Every week, I aim to tackle the overlap between mental health and work culture. Depression in the context of work, and in particular running a business, is a largely ignored topic for many reasons. It’s easier to talk about pretty much any other mental health condition than depression, so let’s dedicate this week’s newsletter to the big black dog… shall we?

Before I start, you can consider this a trigger warning for mental health, depression, anxiety, panic disorder and OCD.

With nights getting darker and seemingly longer, and no end in sight for the pandemic, it’s no wonder that depression is on the rise. The black dog is just one feather in my multi-faceted mental health hat, which also boasts anxiety, panic disorder and OCD. But when it comes to talking about these conditions, and particularly their impact on my career, depression is by far the hardest to approach.

Why is it so hard for business owners to talk about depression?

I believe that society has produced some kind-of hierarchy of mental health. You’ve got the high functioning conditions, like anxiety and OCD, which are often seen as quirky and just a little weird. Then on the other end of the scale, there’s depression, the symptoms of which are frequently mistaken for laziness.

As business owners/freelancers, the last thing we want to be associated with is laziness. I’m a prolific oversharer and I’ve written about mental health online for years, yet admitting I have depression is considerably more difficult than even that time I wrote about poop for Yahoo.

I can only speak for myself, so you’ll have to let me know if this resonates with you. Many people choose to not share their mental health conditions at all, although I do highly recommend at least opening up to close friends and family as it’s proven to help ease the pain (for both yourself and others).

But when you're talking about mental health in a public forum, it’s a whole different kettle of fish. You are exposing your most vulnerable parts to the online world, which isn’t always the nicest place. However, for me at least, it was only when I started talking openly about it both online and offline, that I felt my pain start to ease.

And the reason I say depression isn’t cool is that it really isn’t. I explored this in my original piece in a lot more detail, but for the benefit of the newsletter, ask yourself this: how often do you hear famous people discuss depression? It’s not like anxiety is a trending topic, but it has received huge exposure (and thus a greater understanding) thanks to the likes of Zoe Sugg, Stephen Colbert and even Oprah talking about their experiences in public.

Depression ≠ productive

In a world obsessed with outcomes, depression is an even harder weight to carry. High functioning anxiety can make for a very productive life (been there, done that). Not only does our society favour the productive, but it also encourages overworking and, ultimately, burnout. More about competitive busy-ness another time, though.

If there’s one thing that society hates, it’s laziness. We’ve seen that for real over the last few weeks as Man Utd footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign for free school meals was met by a stone-faced reaction from the government and some attitudes that can only be described as toxic on social media.

So, as a business owner, the last thing you want is to be perceived as lazy. And I think that’s the crux of it.

Overcoming misconceptions

So, how can we overcome the common misconception that people with depression are less productive (or that productivity has any moral value at all?)…

Well, we’ve all got to start somewhere, and I truly believe that talking about depression, and how it impacts the different areas of our lives, is the first step. That’s why I want to openly discuss what it’s really like experiencing depression as a business owner, and what that looks like day-to-day, week-to-week etc. Only then can we start to better understand the daily lives of our peers, and what we can do to make it better.

If you feel the same or you simply want to chat about mental health, then you’ll find me on Twitter @ContentByTheSea).

Hey, it’s been a weird ol’ week (can you tell?). My mood has been all over the shop, and I suspect I’m not the only one. It all got a bit much last week, so we booked a last-minute trip to the Lake District. I am so grateful to be in a position where we can do this, and a steep climb up Catbells with the dogs and a couple of early nights in a country lodge did us the world of good.

That’s all from me this week! Don’t forget to subscribe if someone sent this to you or you arrived via Twitter, I send an email every week exploring mental health, work culture and the bits in between.

If you enjoyed it or it resonated with you in any way, then tell me on Twitter or send to your saddest pals to perk ‘em up. Remember: you’re never alone.

Until next week,

Ellen x

Enjoyed this? You might like these past issues:

21 October: How to actually stick to something (and why it’s okay if you don’t)

14 October: Meet the bosses who shaped me

6 October: Running a business when you're sensitive AF

30 September - Let them eat lockdown layer cake 🍰

23 September - Poetry in Notion: How one tool revolutionised my work ✨

16 September - A sceptic’s guide to self development

9 September - A quick one from Bonny Scotland

2 September - I’m here 🙋‍♀️