One of the largest myths about depression is that it escapes the lives of successful people, that only people who are poor or come from tough upbringings are prone to depression. In fact, studies show that highly successful individuals such as CEOs may be depressed at more than double the rate of the average population (which is already close to 20%). We also know from cross-national research that depression is actually more common in wealthy countries than less wealthy countries.
Todd Essig, Forbes contributor and psychologist in New York City says, “Many C-suite executives are prone to depression, despite their success, maybe even because of it.” Just a week ago Kate Spade, founder and former co-owner of the designer brand Kate Spade New York committed suicide despite having one of the most successful careers in fashion history. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or need someone to talk to, please reach out to the crisis hotline.
It is also important to point out that whether you are an upper-class or lower-class individual depression can affect everyone in any socioeconomic class. However, there seems to be something about people who are wildly successful that makes them higher risk for depression.
So why does depression affect people who are extremely successful, the ones who seem to have the perfect lives and everything you could ever want? It may be hard to empathize for the people who look like they have the dream life, but we will try to show you how life might look through their eyes and what might be causing their struggles with depression.
The competition is never ending
When you come from a first world country there is never ending fierce competition to be the best at simply everything. It seems that no matter how successful you become there are people who are doing better than you. This constant comparison to others can cause extreme feelings of failure even when you’re super-successful because there is probably someone out there doing it better than you. Always looking up the ladder is surely a self-destructive behaviour.
We are often taught in schools and by our parents to always strive to do better, moving the goalpost every time we achieve our goals as if the first objective wasn’t enough. Many successful people measure their self-worth by how they measure up to whoever seems to be more successful than them, which is a recipe for depression inducing envy. In Raj Raghunathan’s book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? Raj Raghunathan, Ph.D., he reveals seven happiness “sins” that highly successful people fall into. One of them is that we believe that if we’re the best at what we do, then we will be complete with a strong, solid sense of self. But, Raghunathan asserts, what often happens is that the greater our need for superiority, the lower our level of happiness. “This means that regardless of how wealthy, famous, powerful, or attractive you are compared with mothers, the more you strive for superiority, the less happy you will be,” he writes in the book
Feelings of Isolation
A survey by RHR International found that half of the CEOs report experiencing feelings of loneliness in their role. I would imagine that most of the public would scoff when if I were to say that today’s CEOs face some real troubles, not least of which is loneliness. Social isolation can create a huge risk factor for the onset of major depression. When you begin a role with extreme pressure at the top of an organization you can feel the entire weight of the organization and feel responsible for everyone. CEOs may feel that they have no one to turn to, they feel like they need to have all the answers, and realizing they don’t have the answers can cause a lot of stress and even depression as the successful/failure of the business is all on the CEO.
They often also become more disconnected from the general population as they don’t face the same problems the general population faces in their everyday lives. Issues that may seem big to the average person like gas prices affecting their monthly budgets can be irrelevant to people with a lot of success. A lot of issues that affect the general public are hard to relate to for people with a lot of wealth, which further isolates them.
Their work becomes their life
Their extreme success usually requires an extraordinary amount of time and effort to be put into their work. In fact, they may even enable their work to consume their lives in order to achieve the success that they desire. It can make for a life that is precipitous and lonely. They stop focusing on the simple pleasures in life like family issues, events and make themselves available to work 24/7 with their minds always problem solving for work to get ahead. With their work consuming them 24/7 they begin to define themselves by their achievement at work and lose the self-identity they had for themselves before they became consumed by their work. There is something distinctly wrong with this self-identity in that when they fail at something they look at themselves as failures discounting all their other successes.
10 Symptoms of depression
1. Loss of interest in daily activities: You’ve lost interest in many of your favourite things in life.
2. A change in weight: A change of more than 5% of body weight in a month.
3. Unexplained aches and pains: You continually have issues like being extremely tired, get headaches and feel uncomfortable.
4. Sleep changes: Either insomnia, waking in the early hours of the morning or oversleeping.
5. Concentration problems: You have a hard time focusing and making decisions.
6. Energy loss: A constant feeling of being tired, your entire body feels exhausted and simple tasks are daunting.
7. Self-loathing: You critique yourself more than anyone else or examine your weaknesses constantly, feeling like you are defined by your weaknesses.
8. Reckless behavior: You consistently find yourself engaging in reckless behaviour such as dangerous sports, drug use, gambling.
9. Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness: You may feel that your current scenario will never change and that you cannot control the outcome.
10. Anger or irritability: You may find that everything gets on your nerves or you are very short tempered.
What can you do immediately to reduce the symptoms?
Exercise: Exercising regularly can be as effective at treating depression as antidepressant medication. Physical exercise not only boosts serotonin, endorphins, and other neurotransmitters, but it is able to triggers growth of new brain cells and synapses just like antidepressants are able to do. Even a half-hour daily walk can make a massive difference or a 30-minute weight lifting session. To gain the full potential of this you should aim for 30-60 minutes of exercise daily.
Reduce Stress: Reduce the amount of stress in your life or find ways to counteract it by doing things that take your mind off the stressful things. Stress can increase your current depression symptoms or contribute to future depression. Try to reduce the total amount of stressful relationships in your life.
Nutrition: Eating well is essential for your physical and mental health. Eating well-balanced meals throughout the day will help you keep your energy up and minimize mood swings. While you may be drawn to sugary foods for the quick boost they provide, complex carbohydrates like brown rice or whole wheat bread are a better choice.
Sleep: The amount of sleep you get can have a great impact on your mood and the depressive symptoms you feel. Sleep deprivation increases irritability, moodiness, sadness, and fatigue. It is important that you get an adequate amount of sleep every night to reduce the magnitude of your symptoms, adults should aim to get around seven to nine hours of sleep each night, with teens needing even more.
Social support: Communicating with others is a key to reducing isolation, a key risk factor for depression. You should make an effort to stay in contact with family and friends to reduce isolation. We are social beings and require at least some social time each day.
Capital Choice Counselling – a Network of Therapists Treating Depression in Ottawa
Capital Choice Counselling in Ottawa offers a network of therapists and counselors who specialize in treating depression & emotional health issues. We can aid you in finding the right therapist with the ability and compassion necessary to diagnose and treat you effectively. Contact us today to get started on your journey to a healthy mind.