Depression and the Executive

Depression - Woman has hands over face lowered on desk
Stressed Businesswoman — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Another news article of an executive whose death was ruled a suicide. People who knew the deceased are in shock. “He always had a positive attitude, and he had an infectious smile.” Little did anyone know was that behind the positive attitude and smile was his secret: He battled severe depression for several years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. suicide rate increased 24% between 1999 and 2014 and is the 10th leading case of death.* Among executives, suicide is the second leading cause of death. Depression is a topic that is rarely openly discussed among leaders; however, it is a real situation that must be addressed across the organization.

Issues that Plague Executives

There are endless and often conflicting demands to ensure stakeholders (board, shareholders, customers, community, vendors, government and unions) are happy. The buck stops with them. They are responsible for consistently turning a profit, making sure employees needs and interests are met, ensuring government compliance, meeting customers’ expectations and maintaining good relationships with vendors, community, and unions/associations. All in a global marketplace that allows for international expansion but requires 24/7 availability.

Another pressure is the executive’s personal expectations to succeed with the possibility of having to address ethical dilemmas. Executives also have the challenge of taking care of family obligations despite a super heavy schedule and avoiding getting fired (The average tenure for a CEO is approximately 7-9 years).

Everything that happens (good or bad) falls on the CEO.

Many of my clients have described their loneliness and fear of trusting others. These and other issues can lead to crisis includes relationship conflicts, navigating competing work-life demands, loss of confidence, conflicting actions vs. core values and the fear of being unfairly judged.  

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When these situations are unresolved, these situations can lead to feelings of depression.

How Can I tell if I’m or Someone I know is Depressed?

According to the National Institute of Health, symptoms vary among people, but can include:

  • Feeling sad or “empty”
  • Feeling hopeless, irritable, anxious, or guilty
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Feeling very tired; fatigue
  • Difficulty in concentrating, making decisions or remembering details
  • Not being able to sleep, or sleeping too much,
  • Overeating, or not wanting to eat at all
  • Thoughts of suicide and/or suicide attempts
  • Persistent moodiness

Here is an interactive quiz to help you: Are You Depressed?

What if I or someone has thoughts of suicide?

Get help immediately.  Here are agencies who can help:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Website  | 1- 800-273-8255 – Available 24/7

If you are outside the U.S.:

International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP): Website

Wrap Up

Public attention is usually given to executive salary and often overshadows the pressures faced by the men and women in these positions. The argument is that the salary more than justifies the nature of the job. Money can never substitute good health.

The purpose of this week’s reflection is not to make a point for nor against executive salary, but to allow for understanding of the pressures of being the CEO that leads some to think the only option is to end their lives.  If you or someone you know may be depressed or suicidal, please get help.  


Take the interactive quiz to see if you may be experiencing depression and not know it.

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Please follow the instructions after you complete the quiz. It will provide the next steps depending on your results.

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