I sit in the doctor’s office bemused by the diagnosis I have just been given. I hear the words over and over in my head, "you are severely depressed." And before I can muster up the words of denial, the doctor delivers the clincher.
"Deal with this now or it will ruin your career."
That was two years ago. Now, having successfully transitioned into a new position – one in which I have moved cities, travelled to New York for work and travelled solo through New Zealand for a month – I can reflect on how that day changed my life and career for the better.
At the time I had a great job as Senior Assistant Buyer at a clothing company. I believe I had been suffering from a hormone imbalance since my teen years for which I had never sought help. But at this point the stress of work and changing circumstances in my personal life tipped me over the edge.
As an employee with glowing reviews, I was next in line for promotion. But as the depression took hold, my mood and personality changed. I was short tempered and forgetful and within weeks this damaged the reputation I had built. I went from a respected member of the buying team to someone who was barely hanging on to my job.
Eventually I was seconded to a different team within the company. It was a huge relief, but I knew that before I started I needed to get help. This was when I sought professional help and was diagnosed with severe depression.
I started a mix of psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). I also notified my new managers of my depression and with their help completed my year’s secondment without any issues. Being honest with my line manager made things much easier for me. It meant we could put a plan in place so I didn’t have to explain from scratch why I might need to be a little more flexible with my working hours. Knowing I could call up and say I was struggling to come in at any point without explanation meant my anxiety around returning to work was reduced significantly and as a result I never needed any more time off.
And during this period of my career I was lucky enough to meet Sarah Curran MBE, the online luxury fashion entrepreneur. In a "Coffee with a Director" session, Sarah spoke about how therapy and continued personal development had made her the woman she was is business. For the first time, I understood how much of a blessing my diagnosis has been. I finally understood the value of what I had learnt through hours of therapy and realised my diagnosis would be the making of my career.
With an average of 80 applications per job in the UK, you are likely to find 20 applicants per job who have experienced a mental health problem that year. And this begs the question ‘who is the ideal candidate?’ Someone who can work under pressure seems a popular ask of most job specs, along with being reliable, a strong communicator and of course, having the right attitude. Not necessarily traits that are associated with someone who has suffered from depression according to stereotypes.
A high-pressured role in a fast-paced society may seem completely unsuitable for a candidate who has suffered from mental health issues. But post recovery, I find I couldn't be more equipped.
With a strong support system in place as a sounding board for any difficult decisions, a strategy for coping with both the physical and mental symptoms of stress and a wealth of experience to draw on, I often find myself the pillar of calm where others crumble.
I think having suffered from depression and tackled it makes me a stronger potential employee. Perhaps the ideal candidate is someone who knows their strengths and weaknesses, someone with the tenacity to make it through the toughest of situations, and someone who can empathise with other team members. All qualities that rarely come from living an easy life.
Yet still, when I am asked the interview question, "tell me about your biggest accomplishment, either in your working or personal life," I steer clear of revealing my battle with depression.
It is time to recognise that if rough seas make skillful sailors, overcoming depression can make stronger candidates. The-1 in-4 candidates who have suffered from some form of mental health problem can be some of the stiffest competition in the job market today.