Depression: an obstacle to learning LO11324
Sun, 08 Dec 1996 19:11:46 -0800

Replying to LO10913 --

Last month Roxanne Abbas wrote:

> I am seeking information, insight and opinion on a phenomenon that I have
> been observing in my community over the past many months. This is my
> perception of a significant increase in serious depression among persons
> of all ages. My observation has been affirmed by colleagues in varied
> workplace environments, by educators (including pre-school teachers who
> are trying to cope with serious depression in 3 -4 year olds), mental
> health professionals and most recently, my own minister. He told me that
> about 1/3 of our members are living with depression (some chronic;some
> temporary) at this time.
> First, I would like to know if any of you has any data on the actual
> trends in cases of depression. Then, if my perception has validity, what
> is the cause(s). And if the employees in our organizations are coming to
> work depressed or dealing with serious depression of a spouse or a child,
> how can we expect them to be fully present and productive workers? To
> what extent is it the workplace itself or the increased stress and rate of
> change in the workplace that is causing or contributing to the depression?
> Or perhaps there really isn't an increased incidence, but people are
> simply more open to talking about it today. Or maybe this is only
> occurring in the western suburbs of Minneapolis and mostly among
> Presbyterians. What do you think? Or better yet, what do you know?

I was the disability programs specialist in the Corporate Work Force
Diversity Department at Hewlett-Packard from 1987 to 1994. Managers called
me all the time to ask about ways to recruit, accommodate, or manage
employees with a wide variety of disabilities. During the first three or
four years I was there, I don't think I had a single case involving
depression or any other psychiatric disability. In the last three years,
however, I bet I had at least a dozen inquiries from managers or employees
themselves. In 1993 I organized a "brown bag" session and invited a
consulting psychologist from our EAP (employee assistance program) to talk
about clinical depression. We made it very clear that our program was not
about dealing with everyday stress but about major clinical depression.
Fifth people showed up in a room designed to accommodate 30, and it was
clear from the interactions that everyone in the room had either
experienced depression or was close to someone who had.

Why the sudden increase? Personally, I think there are several possible
explanations. It has been my experience that when you offer people
something useful, they begin to make themselves known. They "crawl out of
the woodwork,"as we used to say in the counseling field. Sometimes people
come forward when someone else leads the way. William Styron, Art
Buchwald, Mike Wallace, and other prominent people with depression began
to speak publicly about their experiences during this time. I had my own
experiences with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder while I was
at HP. At first, like most people, I was ashamed and tried to keep this
information under wraps, but when I began to speak publicly about it, I
was amazed at the number of other people who told me that they, too, had
experienced clinical depression.

The introduction of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) during this
period may also have empowered some people who had previously remained "in
the closet" to make themselves known. People are more likely to identify
themselves with a disability when they know that they have some legal

Finally, HP had gone through a period of downsizing that had taken its
toll not only on the people who left the company but also on those who
remained. I believe that the stress had contributed to the increase.

Before I close, I think I should point out that depression is not just a
mood disorder; it is a neurobiological disorder. We do not know whether
depression causes changes in brain chemistry or whether changes in brain
chemistry cause depression, but we do know that there is a correlation.
There are lots of good links on the internet for anyone wishing to
research this issue further.

After I left HP, I wrote a little booklet on "The ADA and Reasonable
Accommodations for People with Psychiatric Disabilities." I don't want to
turn this posting into a commercial, but if anyone is interested in the
booklet, you can find it on the web at

And, if you want to read my personal account of dealing with PTSD, you can
find that story at

Robert Ingram
Ingram Communications
Union City, CA, USA


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