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How do I tell my colleagues I suffer from depression?

I’ve been diagnosed with depression, but I’m worried about telling colleagues because I work in a young, fast-paced environment. I will also need to take days off to see a therapist, and I’m not sure people would appreciate that.

Ariel Duhon

Dear Corporate Governess
After a meeting, one of my colleagues often sidles up to people and gripes to them privately about things that were just discussed. Is this fair?
—Josie M., Edmonton

Dear Josie
It's like kicking the ball into the net after the whistle's blown. Useless. Just ask Brazil. Your colleague missed his chance to speak up when it would have counted. The purpose of a meeting is to have open dialogue, so that each can express their thoughts to the convener. Any conversation afterwards should be regarded as social–an opportunity to briefly reconnect or say thanks.

If emotions are running high over unresolved issues, you can help ease the tension by acknowledging your colleague's frustration, but don't drag it out with a rehash. If you're the target, the best defence is to gather up your things as you talk, and then walk. Away. Briskly. You have things to do. This meeting is over.

Dear Corporate Governess
I've been diagnosed with depression, but I'm worried about telling colleagues because I work in a young, fast-paced environment. I will also need to take days off to see a therapist, and I'm not sure people would appreciate that.
—Aidan B., Toronto

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Dear Aidan
In any office, there are those who'd respect the space you need and those who'd light torches for the villagers to drive you away. People fear what they don't understand. Talking about it could start a conversation that helps clear up misconceptions around your illness and the time off you will need to deal with it. You're the best judge of how you feel opening up to colleagues, but by talking you might uncover some surprising allies. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five Canadians will develop a mental illness at some time in their lives. Even one person's support can make a difference.

Dr. Heather Stuart, a professor of Community Health and Epidemiology in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Queen's University and the Bell Canada Chair in Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Research, sees disclosure as a double-edged sword. "It would be wonderful if everyone could out themselves at work," says Dr. Stuart, who helped develop the Mental Health@Work Training Program at Queen's for supervisors. "But, at the same time, I hear too many stories of people who do this and then are penalized, so I still recommend strategic disclosure. Much depends on the supervisor. If the supervisor is supportive, then that person can make sure co-workers are respectful and create a stigma-free zone. If a staff person needs accommodation, it could be as simple as a temporary reduced workload, a quiet place to work or flexible hours, which can be discussed on a case-by-case basis."

Personally, I'd like to see more top-down sharing so people can feel safer revealing they need treatment–in the way that celebrities have made rehab cooler or at least more visible. Then you could admit to having a "black dog day" instead of pretending you're nursing a hangover.

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