Challenges Executives Face who suffer from Mental Health or Substance Abuse Issues

Executives and other such high-ranking business and political leaders face a unique set of challenges when it comes to addressing their own mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or other such mental illness, as well as substance abuse and other addictions.  When untreated, such individuals can not only ruin their own lives, but also the lives of their family, colleagues, professional relationships, and overall business and community.  This article addresses the particular challenges that executives face in relation to mental health, how untreated mental illness can impede on their success and the success of those around them, signs and symptoms of mental health issues that colleagues and family can look out for, and how to address mental health issues when they arise in the workplace.


Individuals in leadership roles have an immense amount of responsibility and pressure on them at all times.  Managing employees, making million- or billion-dollar decisions, long work hours, and other such stressors that executives face can result in significant stress.  Not only are they responsible for running their entity and making significant day-to-day decisions, but they are also responsible to those they serve including their employees, clients, partners and communities.  High stress careers compounded by a poor work and life balance and a lack of self-care can result in the onset of mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression.  This can also be exacerbated due to lack of adequate sleep, poor nutrition, difficulty maintaining an exercise routine, and/or loss of quality time with loved ones.  Turning to drugs or alcohol can become a way to cope with stress and mental health symptoms.  Having a couple drinks of alcohol at the end of a long workday to unwind can become routine and habitual.


Furthermore, drugs like Adderall and other methamphetamines or other narcotics such as cocaine can become a tool to stay alert and focused.  This is sometimes the case for stock traders on Wall Street and other such professionals in Manhattan or Brooklyn and throughout the New York, New York area.  New York City business culture also often involves after-hour meetings and a nightlife for socializing, which means alcoholic beverages, and sometimes more.  Staying sober and taking care of one’s mental health in New York City is certainly not easy, especially for individuals with demanding careers.


Executives are the public face of their corporate organization, and as such it is important that they are always ready to present and perform at their best.  Such leaders not only set examples of work ethic, organization, skill sets, and other characteristics for their employees in the workplace, but also for their business partners and communities.  Due to the stigmatic nature of mental health and addiction, executives face significant challenges and barriers to seek out help and treatment.  Their reputations, their careers, their livelihoods, and their companies are at stake, resulting in such individuals being afraid of what they might lose if they become known, and subsequently suffering in silence.


When a mental health issue such as depression or anxiety, or an addiction such as to drugs or alcohol is left untreated, it is generally progressive in nature and becomes more difficult to treat as it progresses.  As such, it is imperative that all individuals seek out help as soon as symptoms are recognizable, regardless of being a high-ranking, high-achieving, or high-powered professional or not.  While executives may still appear to be “functioning” to those around them, and even believe themselves that they don’t have a problem because they are fulfilling their responsibilities and obligations at work and at home, this does not negate the severity of a mental illness or an addiction.  High-functioning depression is still depression, high-functioning anxiety is still anxiety, high-functioning alcoholism is still alcoholism, and so on.  Such cases are just as dangerous and damaging internally to the individual and externally to those around them as any other case of mental health or addiction.


Even if an executive is able to get past the idea of how being treated for a mental health issue or an addiction may appear to others, another reason they may not reach out for help is because they simply fear that they are not able to take the time away from work to focus on their wellness.  Who will take over their position while they are seeking treatment?  How will the company handle their absence?  How will investors, board members and other stakeholders react?  These are natural concerns and fears.  Such matters are addressed below, but also know that nothing is more important than your mental and physical health, for without it you have nothing. Furthermore, dealing with mental health issues sooner rather than later will make anyone a more effective, productive and efficient individual in the long-run.


Another barrier to treatment for executives is the culture of the workplace.  It is important that company from the top down implements practices and policies that do not further stigmatize those with mental health issues, but rather promote wellness and encourage individuals to seek help without penalty.  Companies can do so by having on-site mental health professionals, educating their employees on signs and symptoms of mental health issues and how to deal with them when they arise, host wellness and self-care workshops, and have appropriate pathways to treatment such as through an Employee Assistance Program.


One should also know that having a mental health issue is a medical concern covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that is a private matter and cannot be discriminated against in the workplace.  As such, one can and should take a leave of absence and only share a minimal amount of information while keeping your disability private.  For those seeking more information on their legal rights in the workplace with regards to mental health, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) can be a good source for those seeking their rights and obligations as both an employer and employee.


All too often, individuals reach a state of crisis before they reach out for help due to the aforementioned reasons as well as other concerns.  Anybody, regardless of being a high-ranking official, public figure or not, will have their fair share of concerns and fears about getting help for a mental health issue.  As such, it is important that people are aware of signs and symptoms of mental health issues and of addiction in order to prevent its progression and help people get the treatment they need.  For example, if you notice a colleague having difficulty at work and not appearing their regular self, it is ok to reach out to them and ask them how they are feeling.  Take note of any changes in their energy, appearance, performance, mood changes, punctuality and/or absence.  If you recognize a continuous recurring problem that does not appear to be an isolated event, follow your intuition and try to show support in the best way you can.  Furthermore, board members and other company stakeholders should have policies and protocols in place to appropriately address signs and symptoms of mental health issues or addiction that do not result in penalizing the individual suffering with a mental health issue, but rather affords them the ability to get help and return to work as a better version of themselves, and ultimately help the organization be more successful.


For executives and other public figures who are concerned about their privacy, there are highly discreet and confidential services available for such individuals who must ensure their anonymity.  The services we have developed at our firm Family Addiction Specialist (Lin & Aaron Coaching, LLC) is one example of a service that was developed to meet the needs of such individuals, and as the demand rises, more and more of these exclusive programs are being developed.  Such services not only make confidentiality (along with quality of care) a number one priority, but also take into account that the individuals they are treating are still able to perform their work obligations, and all services are customized to meet each individuals’ unique needs.  In many cases, individuals do not even need to take a leave of absence from work unless symptoms are extremely severe.  Do not allow depression, anxiety or any other mental health issue or a drug or alcohol addiction prevent you from getting help.


For more information or to inquire about our private executive services please contact our undisclosed office location in the Upper East Side of New York City today at (929) 220-2912.

Lin Sternlicht & Aaron Sternlicht

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