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The depression recession

The depression recession

The GFC is, and will continue to wreak havoc on organisations, but of more concern could be the havoc the pressure the financial climate places on employees. This morning at an event organised…

The GFC is, and will continue to wreak havoc on organisations, but of more concern could be the havoc the pressure the financial climate places on employees.

This morning at an event organised by outplacement provider Directioneering, author and speaker on depression Graeme Cowan revealed some alarming statistics: The World Health Organisation has found depression to be the most debilitating illness in the Western world. By 2020, it will be the most debilitating illness across the globe.

Cowan knows all too well just how debilitating the illness can be. In 2004, he attempted suicide for the fourth time. The former managing director of AT Kearney Executive Search had tried everything from acupuncture to ECT therapy and various forms of medication to escape from rock bottom.

For lawyers, the problem of mental illness is all too common across the sector. We know that the legal profession is particularly vulnerable to depression and we know the reasons why: long hours combined with a high-pressure working environment surrounding highly intelligent individuals.

Yesterday, the Reserve Bank announced that Australia was officially in recession. In an industry already tackling intense workloads - and the impact of cutbacks across law firms - what could a worsening economic climate mean for the state of mental health in law?

Cowan compared one of his lowest points while suffering from his mental illness to the current climate: in 2000, his recruitment work was drying up considerably. "There are lots of parallels to the situation we're now in," he said. "It does cause stress, which manifests in different ways in the workforce."

So what needs to be done? Cowan told his audience, who were predominantly human resources managers, that line managers, with direction from HR, need to take some responsibility for the rates of depression within the workforce.

John Brogden, former opposition leader of NSW who has had his own very public battle with depression and appeared as a panelist at this morning's discussion, agreed with that to an extent but said that ultimately the individuals who suffer depression should take some responsibility for their own health.

"The objectives are simple - you need to think and talk about mental illness in the same way you think and talk about physical illness," said Brogden. He noted that if individuals don't seek help then there is a risk that outsiders might construe the illness as "an excuse".

"We go from it having a stigma attached [right] to the other extreme - [one] of no respect for the illness."

While medication is one option in assisting those with depression, Cowan said what assisted him were simple initial self-goals around exercising and meditation.

Ultimately though, Cowan believes prevention is better than the cure: a measure that organisations can assist in developing by taking some responsibility for the mental health of their staff.

Prevention will be tough in the current climate but, surely, it can't be impossible.

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