How workplace conversations about behavioral health can maximize our career potential
Dr. Shirley Cresci, Director, Behavioral Health Services, Prudential
I was diagnosed with dysthymia—persistent mild depression—several decades ago. Prior to my diagnosis and treatment, depression robbed me of joy and my authenticity. Because it was not debilitating depression that kept me from getting out of bed each day, however, I minimized it. I convinced myself my sadness and low self-worth was just me, not any kind of problem.
I experienced the effect of my depression through all aspects of my life, but especially in my early work choices. As a single mother with no college degree and a poor sense of self-confidence, I pursued jobs that were outside of my goals and ambitions. My past work life was about underachievement.
A workplace mentor recognized my symptoms and prompted me to talk to a therapist. Once my depression was diagnosed and treated, I was able to pursue educational and professional opportunities I never imagined for myself. My depression became less what defined me and more a manageable part of me.
Fast forward many years and two post-graduate degrees. When I learned Prudential was planning a program that would feature employees sharing their experiences with behavioral health issues, I decided I would—for the first time—share my story with my employer and co-workers. But preparing for the program made me feel exposed and vulnerable. Despite my professional training and experience, I sometimes find myself buying into the stigma that surrounds mental health conditions. I start believing that maybe I was just weak, or maybe if I had done things differently I wouldn’t have become depressed.
In spite of those doubts, I felt a responsibility to let others know that whatever it is they are struggling with, or whatever it is that is holding them back, they are not alone. And so I stood up on a stage in front of several hundred of my co-workers—with another 600 watching via live stream—and talked about living with depression.
After the videocast, I received many emails and comments thanking me for sharing my story. It was gratifying and personally affirming. More than that, though, the videocast paved the way for me to communicate with Prudential employees in a new, deeply honest way. When I sit on the other side of the desk, in my role as Director of Behavioral Health, I can say, “Look at me. I may not have suffered exactly as you are, but I suffered. Depression doesn’t have to be a sentence that is forever going to rob you of what you hope to achieve in life.”
Too often, I see employees waiting to seek help; by the time they do, their work performance is suffering. I also see employees who are struggling but flying just under the radar, not yet impacted by poor performance reviews. These employees fear that if they disclose their behavioral health issues or ask for help, it will harm their chances for promotion or additional projects that would give them visibility.
I remember one young man who came to see me. This was his first job and he was suffering, but he didn’t know how to explain what he was experiencing. After an assessment, I told him he was showing classic signs of depression and explained this is something that can be effectively treated. He felt such relief to know there was a name for it. He went on to get some counseling, started medication, and came back and said, “I never knew I could feel this good.”
His is a perfect example of the important role work-based support and services can play in our behavioral health. You might not have language for what you are experiencing (whether it’s difficulty concentrating, sleeplessness, self-doubt, overeating or insecurities), but there are paths to help. And there are ways to seek help that don’t require disclosing your struggles to your manager. Most employers offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which provides short-term, confidential counseling and referrals for additional care.
Because of the work Prudential has done to educate our employees about behavioral health and reducing stigma, and because of my own and others’ willingness to speak openly about depression, our employees are empowered to come forward for their own needs. When they do, the message I want people to hear is that depression limits our career potential. When we seek help for behavioral health issues, we’re not admitting weakness; we’re maximizing our personal and career potential.
- Have you shared your mental health condition diagnosis at work? If so how has it been received by supervisors and/or co-workers?
- If not, what’s keeping you from sharing?
Shirley Cresci, PhD, LCSW, CEAP, serves as Director of Behavioral Health at Prudential. For more than 25 years, she has combined clinical training with corporate experience to provide Employee Assistance Program services to businesses and Fortune 500 companies. In her current role, she manages service delivery of eight on-site BHS consultants across the United States. In addition, she and her team consult with employees, business groups and executive leaders on issues impacting productivity and morale. Dr. Cresci received her PHD in Counseling Psychology from Seton Hall University and her Master’s Degree in Clinical Social Work from Rutgers University. She also holds certificates from Rutgers School of Alcohol Studies and the New Jersey School of Drug and Alcohol Studies.