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Mental Health

A Big, Strong Man

Spencer McDonald

Reprinted from "Men" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2(5), p. 17

stock photoLife is good. I run my own company, give talks on workplace depression to business leaders, and appear on radio and TV.

But it wasn't always that way. I've been 'down.' But there was a time when supportive friends and family suggested I might be depressed.

I rejected that possibility outright—after all, I am a six-foot, 285-pound, big, strong man! I'm a senior manager with a staff of eight people. I'm an important fellow—I don't have time to be depressed. I ride motorcycles and drive semi-trailer trucks. I teach sailing. I operate power tools, for heaven's sake! Big, strong men don't get depressed.

I just needed to get motivated. You know, if I could get myself going, I would keep up the momentum and get back on track. Sure, no problem!

But every day, by noon, I would be on the couch or back in bed. I was defeated by the simplest things, like unloading the dishwasher, which had been waiting for…well…a long time. I just couldn't face it. I rarely went out, ate potato chips and dip for dinner, gained 60 pounds, withdrew from friends and pretty much memorized the TV guide.

I was not depressed!

Or, was I?

The day I finally admitted that perhaps I could use some help, I found myself, at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, in bed, with the drapes drawn, shoes on and fully dressed, curled up in a fetal ball with the covers over my head, crying like a three-year-old. Not depressed though; not me! But everything seemed so black and hopeless that I finally crawled out of bed, asking myself, "What harm could there be in finding out a bit about depression?"

I came across a screening test on the Internet and—oops! The results were off the scale. Well, that was depressing.

I thought I was a freak. Men don't get depressed, especially not big, strong men like me.

I realize now that I am not a freak. At any given time there are 1.4 million clinically depressed employees and executives in Canada. In fact, since the early 1990s—the decade of downsizing and restructuring—the hours worked by Canadians have increased at six times the rate of growth in labour productivity. Studies show that in the same decade, depression was growing and affecting younger people. And Harvard University has projected that by the year 2020, depression will become the greatest cause of work days lost through disability and premature death in the world's developed countries.1 I wasn't alone.

With an education in psychology and counselling, I got pretty interested in depression treatment and the effects on workers and the workplace. I spent hours researching and reading everything I could find. I learned that early detection and treatment is the key. The symptoms of depression often appear more clearly at work, where employers can help by developing strategies that will save lives and money.

Mental health disorders are driving business costs up through lost productivity, disability and absenteeism. Depression is the most expensive of all. Each depressed employee costs a business around $10,000 a year. With up to 10% of the workforce affected, the costs add up quickly, making it just good business to confront the problem head on.

Employers can tackle worker depression in several ways, and the savings will outstrip the cost of these initiatives many times over:

  • Employee education, awareness and screening

  • Creating a mentally healthy workplace by reducing stress, uncertainty and conflict

  • Encouraging and supporting effective treatment programs

  • Reviewing corporate medical programs and employee health benefits

  • Emproving employee assistance programs (EAPs)

Today, I'm still big and still strong, but I'm wiser and happier. I'm off the couch. Every time I give a talk about depression in the workplace someone stays after to share his or her story and inspires me to keep educating and working to remove the stigma of this illness.

The smartest thing I ever did was to admit that I was in trouble and to reach out. If a big, strong man like me can ask for help, so can you.

About the author

Spencer is a motivational speaker, educator, expert on workplace depression and stress, and volunteer with the Delta branch of Canadian Mental Health Association. He offers training on early intervention with people who have depression. He is also the founder of Thinking Driver, an anti-aggressive driving program. For more information visit


  1. Wilson, M., Joffe, R.T. & Wilkerson, B. (2000, July). The unheralded business crisis in Canada: Depression at work. Paper presented at the Business and Economic Roundtable on Mental Health, Toronto, ON.


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