For people with depression, work can feel excruciating. Maybe you get tired and want to sleep during the day. You can’t focus in meetings and feel disconnected. You aren’t sure how to tell your manager, and are afraid you are going to lose your job. If you relate to this, know that you are not alone.
In 2020, 18.4% of American adults had been diagnosed with depression at some point in their life. Depression can affect anyone, regardless of one’s financial situation, race, gender, or education level. Even prominent public figures have openly spoken about depression. For Zak Williams, the son of late actor Robin Williams, stigma surrounding depression needs to be addressed.
He and his wife Olivia June Williams co-founded Prepare Your Mind (PYM), an organization that focuses on using nutrition to improve mental health. Williams was inspired to help others because of his own experience with general anxiety disorder, depression, and complex post-traumatic stress disorder. He also struggles with alcoholism, and has been sober for 6 years. Despite his father’s extensive acting career, Williams has created his own legacy as a mental health advocate. He took the time to speak with Forbes about coping with depression in the workplace.
Maya Richard-Craven: Can you tell me about your work in mental health advocacy?
Zak Williams: My work in mental health advocacy is part of my healing journey. After my father passed away there was a continuous downward spiral. I discovered that in order for me to start my healing process I needed to be of service. And part of that related to sharing my story and helping organizations that help communities mental health. I realized that I needed to take better care of myself in order to be of service. It created this positive feedback loop. Be of service, find happiness. But you need to take care of yourself to be of service.
Richard-Craven: Why did you found PYM?
Williams: I founded PYM because I was going through this early advocacy journey. I wasn’t taking care of myself and was burning out. My wife Olivia June Williams had a similar journey to me in that her sister passed away when she was very young. She introduced me to nutrition for mental well-being. I was so impressed with the outcome of relying upon nutrition that I wanted to get the word out.
Richard-Craven: What are some things depressed people can do to get through work?
Williams: Direct sunlight can be very effective, especially if you work indoors. Finding opportunities for sunlight is a key one. Another one is finding ways to take meetings while walking or moving. Being sedentary all day can have an effect on one’s mental health. Sunlight, walking, fitness habits, mindfulness, and outlook are important. I ground myself in a gratitude ritual every day. We also need to identify how to meaningfully connect with people. If we’re not actively taking the initiative to connect with people that contributes to depression.
Richard-Craven: How do you think companies can be more neuro-inclusive?
Williams: Leadership teams need to be made aware of employees’ needs. Start thinking about drafting or establishing a charter around mental health. Team members need to establish consensus around what the needs are and also what steps can be taken. Not only around acknowledging, but steps can be taken to remove the stigma. It involves continuous, consistent conversation, dialogue around stigma, and solutions.
Richard-Craven: What would you say to a young person struggling with depression?
Williams: If someone is struggling with depression and feels hopeless, please seek help. I would say the other element is to understand what you’re doing in your life that could be contributing to the depression. Often there’s an imbalance in our lives just because of the nature of life. When and where it’s available, therapy can be helpful. But we need to acknowledge that it’s not affordable.
Richard-Craven: What is the most rewarding thing you’ve learned or experienced from being a mental health advocate?
Williams: It’s my personal path to happiness.
Richard-Craven: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers about depression at work?
Williams: Understand your personal relationships and mental hygiene. Focus on what you can do to better your mental well-being every day, no matter how big or little that effort might be.
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