In the last piece, a handful of psychologists weighed in on whether the super-successful C-suite crowd may suffer from depression disproportionately. And they seem to, for reasons that are counterintuitive, but pretty logical once you think about them. The related issue is how highly-successful people deal with their depression when it does strike – do the types of traits that help a person attain uber-success in the first place – i.e., motivation, stick-to-itiveness and resilience – also enable one to fight depression better? There are two opinions on this. Some say, “no,” since depression strips away those qualities as soon as it strikes, wiping out the very coping mechanisms needed to recover. “When the noonday demon strikes it wipes out all resilience and perseverance,” says Todd Essig, psychologist in New York City, and Forbes contributor.
Others disagree, arguing that very successful people have larger reserves of resilience and motivation to begin with, and that these qualities remain at least somewhat more intact when depression strikes. So let’s consider this: There are some ways in which the super-successful may have a leg up when it comes to recovering, and these qualities are worth paying attention to, and perhaps even learning from.
They develop a GOAL with therapy
Many people go to therapy with the foggy notion that they want to feel better – but they aren’t exactly sure what that looks like, says Richard Taite, founder and CEO of Cliffside Malibu treatment center, who has dealt with major depression himself, particularly in his own early days of sobriety. Taite knows from personal experience, and from seeing countless heavy hitters come through the treatment center, that one of the biggest differences in whether therapy is successful or not is whether a person outlines his or her goals before they go to therapy, or very early on in it. The power crowd is used to outlining goals, and therapy is no different, he says. “Don’t just be in therapy,” says Taite. “You have to find the psychologist who’s not only well-meaning, but actually has the ability to get results you want to get. And, you have to know what it is you want before you go in.
“Figure out what you want: You want a loving relationship with your wife, to really take each other in, and breathe each other in? You want a good relationship with your children; you want to be at peace; you want genuine happiness? You can’t be in the victim position. That’s the most disempowering place you could be. You have to take care of your own side of the street. For a long time, it’s little wins, little wins, little wins – and then all of a sudden, you realize you’re changing, and you start to know how to act when depression hits. When you get in that space, you recognize it, and you know how to identify what’s going on, and move out of it.”
They’re willing to “go there”
Funnily, when the super-successful come to grips with the fact that they’re going to have to delve into their pasts and figure themselves out, they’re often totally down with it. “I’m a psychoanalyst,” says Deborah Serani, psychologist and author of the award-winning book Living with Depression, “so we understand that well-being isn’t just about this moment, but you have to look at arc of a person’s life – you have to go back to early experiences. I find the big difference in the affluent individuals – they’re ironically more eager to explore that area than others who may not have means. It’s kind of like using the narcissism in a good way. Like, ‘we’re gonna talk about me? Great!’” And once they really start to do this, to think more deeply about their pasts and presents, it usually works out pretty well in the end.
They learn to develop meta-awareness of any situation
Exceedingly successful individuals are usually exceedingly intelligent, so when they stop self-sabotaging (and they are often very good at that, too) and start thinking about themselves and their lives in new ways – à la therapy – it can have powerful effects.
Taite, who says he’s had lots of therapy over the years, has learned how to identify triggers for depression as soon as they start. Which can keep him from spiraling into a days-long depressive episode. He’s also seen similar changes in the hundreds of his high-functioning clientele. “I’m the most therapized guy I know,” says Taite. “I’m in therapy 4 hours a week. I’ll give you an example of how fast it works now. When my wife and I are fighting, it usually has nothing to do with my wife and me. It’s because my parents are in the f*cking room and her parents are in the f*cking room. So really there are six people in the f*cking room. So what my wife and I are really fighting about is ancient stuff. If we can just get the other four people out of the f*cking room, then we’ll be able to deal with what’s actually going on.”
In other words, when past traumas creep back up and overwhelm you, you can fall back into a child-like place. “If something that is a four, rises to the level of a 10,” says Taite, “and is absolutely flooding you, then you know you’re ‘in your child,’ because if you were ‘in your adult,’ you would experience the four as a four. “ Knowing how to immediately identify when old traumas flood back, and how to pull yourself out of the situation, can prevent against a days-long (or longer) relapse.
They learn the dose of treatment that works for them
Taite points out that when it comes to recovering from depression, you have to figure out the best combination of therapies – sometimes it’s psychotherapy alone, sometimes it’s medication, and sometimes it’s both. Or maybe it’s other methods. And then you have to figure out, along with your therapist, what will work for maintenance – and it may have to be tweaked every now and then. “You start with a couple or a few sessions a week, depending, and, then you titrate back,” says Taite. “I’ve tried one session a week for myself; it doesn’t work. I like three for me and one for us – my wife and me. That’s the dose that’s most effective.” Not everyone may have the luxury of three or four therapy sessions a week, but if you can put as many “treatments” into a week as you can – therapy, running, knitting, journaling, meditating, praying – that will set you up well for recovery.
They don’t see depression as a personality flaw
Any psychologist you ask will tell you that depression isn’t about a person being weak or flawed – it just happens, and it takes a lot of work to recover. “With depression,” says psychologist Arnold Washton, of Compass Health, “there are some people for whom biological factors appear to be overwhelming. They respond so well to medication or to TMS that it seems to be almost wholly biological. For other people, they’ve suffered a series of blows and losses, so it’s more psychological. But no disease has a singular cause: Just like the idea that pneumonia is pneumonia is pneumonia is inaccurate in medicine, it’s also not the case with depression.” Whatever the cause of your depression, it’s easier to recover when you view depression as a true disorder, rather than a shortcoming.
“These are people with egos that can withstand a lot, says Constance Scharff, Director of Addiction Research at Cliffside Malibu. “At least with people I’ve spoken to, they’re more concerned about addiction because it’s a ‘sign of weakness.’ That’s not the case with depression. Their attitude is, ‘Would you criticize me for having diabetes? No.’ If you beat them up for a mental health issue, you’re going to get a lion back. They have different personalities than the average person.” Luckily, as more people come forward with their personal battles, the stigma is dissolving.
They own the “fake it till you make it approach”
Once a person admits he or she is depressed and commits to recovery, the “fake it till you make it” approach can be helpful in overhauling negative thought processes. “We know from research that negative thoughts are a huge part of depression,” says Serani, “so recovery, then, requires an overhaul in thinking. Learning how to stop the loop of negative thoughts and reframing them to realistic, positive ones is the goal. One can achieve this by identifying the corrosive thinking (I’m never gonna get this account, who am I kidding?) challenging it by defusing its logic (No, wait a minute, I’ve been successful before. In fact, more times than not), and then replacing it with by grounding it in reality… If an uber-professional wants to “Fake it till you make it”, it can be helpful if they’re *not* in denial of their depression. Otherwise, it can spiral toward serious, life threatening levels if untreated depressive symptoms are ignored.”
She adds that people in highly competitive business arenas may be particularly endowed with this capacity, since they are used to problem-solving on the fly. But as for anyone, getting help to replace old, negative thought processes with newer, more positive ones is an important first step in treatment.
They figure out that a better way actually does exist
This is probably the most critical point, for any piece on depression, and for any person who’s depressed: Before you can get treated for depression you have to know that you’re depressed. But as simple as that sounds, it can be easier said than done. You first have to realize that there’s a better way to go through life. Many times, it takes a wakeup call like a trauma or a momentous event like the birth of a child, to make you realize that life doesn’t have to be blah, or worse, all the time.
“Most people are just unaware,” says Taite. “I used to get out of the car to look at street signs. I had my windshield replaced; I had my headlights souped up, and I still couldn’t see. People kept saying to me ‘you need glasses.’ I finally went to an eye doctor; he said, ‘so how long have you been walking around blind?” How was I supposed to know? If you don’t know anything different….if you walk around not knowing that you’re blind, the only way you know is by getting woken up to it – for me, it was being a drug addict and self-medicating for 20 years. If I hadn’t found a joy for living when I did – my wife and my children – I was going to continue self-medicating. Sometimes it takes something really horrible to wake you up. Or something really wonderful, like the birth of a child.”
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Scharff, who herself has dealt with major depression over the years, adds that it doesn’t have to be a major life event that shows a person that there’s a better way – sometimes it just takes paying attention to the little things throughout the day that give us a glimpse of another way. “The human state of being is not miserable,” she says. “It’s also not joyful and leaping over the bushes – it’s somewhere in between. If you feel bad for more than half the day you should get help. And it doesn’t have to be a momentous event to wake you up – I think there are moments throughout day or week that for some reason we can hear it. In recovery, we call them moments of clarity. I’ve had people say to me at times in the past, ‘You need help.’ And I didn’t hear it. But then someone says it at just the right time, and you GET IT. If you love someone with depression, just keep saying it. They won’t hear it, and they won’t hear it, and they won’t hear it. And then all of a sudden, they hear it.”
Alice G. WaltonContributor