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Bankers, don’t let depression steal your success. Ask for help

Lange haben Banken versucht ihr Mittelstandsgeschäft auszubauen. Damit scheint Schluss zu sein.

When I was a kid, rainy summer days were often filled with endless rounds of Monopoly. There was always some argument over who would get to play “banker.” And why not? Rich Uncle Pennybags always looked so happy and secure, even when the cards turned up a new wrinkle in the game.

Fast-forward to adulthood. I’ve met and worked with many wonderful banking and financial professionals over the years, and as much as they seem to enjoy their careers, none of them ever looked quite as happy as that little man with his top hat and cane.

Depression and anxiety run rampant throughout the industry

As it turns out, depression and anxiety are a growing problem for people in the financial industry. Although research about depression among bankers and investment professionals is still a little thin, there is growing concern over the high suicide rate. In fact, management, business and financial operations professionals are included in the top seven industries considered high risk for suicide. With a suicide rate estimated at 39% above the workforce as a whole, it is easy to surmise that the rate of depression is well above average as well.

Root causes

It is also easy to see the external forces behind the trend. Even the casual observer is aware of the relentless shifts in corporate ownership, government regulation and economic forces affecting those who work in banks and investment companies.

Uncertainty and lack of control over the future are the real-life versions of those Monopoly “Chance” cards. Competition and pressure to chase an ever-better bottom line lead to long hours, precious little time with family and friends, and a host of poor health choices.

Road to recovery

If you are among those who are suffering, possibly silently, I would like to bring you a message of hope. I have spent the better part of my life coping with depression and anxiety. As a young man I checked myself into a psychiatric institution and began the long road to recovery, building the emotional skills that would get me through whatever life would hand me. Mind you, my starting point was residency in a boarding house for transients and a job cleaning bathrooms in a local motel.

With treatment, though, I developed the gumption to pursue an education and a career, and by the age of forty-nine I was appointed the president and CEO of a major medical center. I don’t need to tell you that the healthcare industry is also subject to a wide range of stress factors. Today, I am a happy, mostly healthy entrepreneur and nonprofit leadership coach.

Lessons learned

Here is what I learned along the way:

  • Depression is not a character flaw. It can be the result of life trauma, loss, grief and/or biochemistry. A career in a highly stressful industry such as financial services can aggravate the symptoms. This is not a reflection of your professional prowess or personal fortitude. It is a natural response to the constant demands and uncertainty surrounding your livelihood.

  • It takes courage and strength to seek professional help. I know personally how hard it is to ask for help, but it is the most important action you can take when depression hits. Think of it this way: If you were to have a mild heart attack, you’d get medical help and take your medicine, wouldn’t you? You owe it to yourself and to the people who care most about you to keep yourself mentally, as well as physically, healthy.

  • For me, and I suspect for many others, depression is another aspect of life’s ups and downs. Build your own personal team of mental health professionals and service providers so that you can get the support you need when you need it. Tap into your network whenever you feel the pressure mounting, so that you can maintain a more balanced approach to work, and to life.

Overcoming the perceived stigma of getting help

Many in the industry still fear the stigma of being treated for depression. If you’re concerned about the professional implications of seeking help, consider the implications of not being treated. I know first-hand the effect depression has on judgment, decision-making and response time. You are in a demanding, fast-paced profession and you cannot afford to lose a minute of effectiveness.

A positive outlook is crucial to success in any profession, including yours. Approach the problem of depression as you would any other challenge in your life or work. Research your options, seek support from your most trusted allies, and secure the best professional help you can afford. By keeping yourself balanced and healthy, you will contribute more to your long-term success than any string of 18-hour workdays ever could.

One last tip: next time you play Monopoly, let someone else be the banker.

Dennis C. Miller is a strategic leadership coach and the author of Moppin’ Floors to CEO: From Hopelessness and Failure to Happiness and Success. The former CEO of Somerset Medical Center and Healthcare Foundation, Miller now advises employers on board governance, leadership development and succession planning.

Photo credit: AndreyPopov/iStock/Thinkstock


AUTHORDennis C. Miller Insider Comment
  • An
    17 June 2016

    I'd like to share my story with you. I worked for a Japanese bank in London before leaving due to the hostile working atmosphere. I was subsequently diagnosed with PTSD due to my experiences there. I still suffer from lack of sleep because of it. In my case, the injuries I suffered were caused deliberately by my manager and facilitated by HR.

    I did try and speak about how I was feeling when I was there, but I was told by my manager that I was being 'sensitive' and that his job was only to make sure that 'the work got done'. Management told me that they didn't care if staff were happy at work or if they got along with each other as long as the work was done. I was told that banking was a 'dirty business'. When my manager was speaking to me alone he assured me that he was being supportive and that resolving the issues in the team were his top priority, yet he did nothing, and when he was eventually forced to confront the issue he tried to blame me for the situation.
    The HR department saw themselves as stooges of management, so rather than try to resolve the problem they would just take management's side, which made it very difficult to get anything done. HR accused me of being 'sensitive', when I came in for a meeting with them while off with work-related stress I was told that I 'looked fine' by the HR person I saw. What ultimately happened was a situation where a manager was unable and unwilling to manage his team and was supported and covered up for by HR. The end situation was that management and HR closed ranks and covered for one another, until eventually, as is often the case in these circumstances, the person suffering from mental injury is bullied out the door when the stress becomes too great.

    While I believe this is a fairly common scenario in many industries, especially in finance, there are some aspects which are peculiar to Japanese banks and are a reason why the level of stress related illness at these banks are so high. The 'senior managers' at these banks are invariably Japanese and based in the UK for a relatively short period of time, but a posting to London is a prestigious one and it is important that nothing difficult comes across their desk while they're in London, as they will look to return to a promoted position in Tokyo when their overseas posting ends. This being the case, the local managers are obsessed that nothing untoward lands on the Japanese manager's desk, which in turn means that HR wield a tremendous amount of power as they are often involved in conflict situations which they have no place being involved in. For a local member of staff who experiences any problems at work, the resultant stress is horrendous, and conflict and stress were rife where I worked. I left, as did many people, but others haven't been so lucky and are still there.

    I've shared my experiences as I agree that it is important to talk about mental health in the workplace, and it is important to publicise mental health problems and their causes in the financial industry. But we need to recognise the cause of the problems if we are to tackle them properly.

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