Thursday, April 2, 2009

HR Leadership - Bad Times, Good Boss

When the economy sinks, so, too, does the likeability of your boss. As the company's earnings and stock plummet, he can be seen skulking and scowling down the cubicle aisles, warning in closed-door meetings of the absence of raises and promotions and the omnipresence of anxiety—"But if we work together as a team," he then enthuses, "I'm sure we'll pull through." An unpleasant picture, but one that's avoidable, according to Bill Treasurer, management specialist and author of "Courage Goes to Work: How to Build Backbones, Boost Performance, and Get Results." Here are Treasurer's tips for remaining a good boss in bad times:

Be Ubiquitous. "Instead of holing up in your office—a real temptation in tough times—be 'out there' for your employees," says Treasurer. "They need your guidance and direction more than ever, so be fully present and offer it to them."

Be Steady. President Obama is recognized and admired for being unflappable, Treasurer points out. "As pressures mount in your own work, take a deep breath and try to be a little cooler, calm, and collected yourself," he advises. "It may be easier said than done, but it's a fact that people choose to follow levelheaded, even-handed leaders."

Be Straight. "In good times and bad, workers want—and deserve—the truth. Avoid tiptoeing around tough issues and give it to them straight, no spinning or sugarcoating," Treasurer emphasizes. "And to rein in the predictable and pernicious gossip, hold regular 'rumor hunts'—ongoing meetings where employees can air the latest rumors and hear the facts directly from you."

Be Focused. It's easy during a crisis to give in to distraction, letting people and projects fall by the wayside, Treasurer notes. "Keep people laser-focused on what needs to be done—key priorities for the foreseeable future," he explains. "And, at least for now, have daily status calls or check-ins."

Be Gutsy. "Fear can play to your base nature. Commit to rising above it and elevating yourself and your team," says Treasurer. "Stop talking to employees about what keeps you awake at night, and start acting on what gets you up in the morning—the results you can make happen together."

Be Hopeful. This isn't the time for revealing your glass half-empty mentality, says Treasurer. "No downplaying the economy or giving false reassurances, but choose optimism over pessimism, encouragement over discouragement," he recommends. "Start by walking the talk, making it clear, with words and actions, that as difficult as things are right now, the team is better off dealing with what 'is,' and facing the challenges head-on with hope and determination."

Thanks to Training Mag.


Ten Tips: Engagement in Uncertain Times

Organizational performance improvement firm Towers Perrin offers ideas on salvaging engagement.

Most companies have been affected by the financial crisis In a variety of ways: strategies have abruptly shifted, projects have been postponed and both employees and resources have been eliminated.

An engaged workforce is vital to getting through times of wrenching change, but those very changes work against engagement and morale. Towers Perrin, a Stamford, Conn.-based professional services firm that helps organizations around the globe improves performance offers ten tips focused around communicating managements' plans that will keep engagement high and futures bright.

1. Clarify Your Strategy And Vision For Dealing With The Economic Uncertainty. Developing a strategy and vision will help you communicate goals and priorities to employees, who look to leadership in times of crisis. It will also improve managers' and employees' abilities to make the right decisions in their day-to-day work.

2. Reinforce Your Strategy And Vision In Every Employee Meeting. Everyone—from C-suite executives to rank-and-file employees—makes decisions every day. However, they'll only align their priorities with the organization's strategy if they're as clear about it as you are.

3. Establish A Web Site Where Employees Can Learn What Your Company Is Doing—And What Your Competitors Are Doing—To Manage The Crisis. Transparency is always preferred by employees, but now it's critical. To build trust, ensure your workforce has easy access to the knowledge it needs to deal with the current situation.

4. Send A Weekly E-Mail Update With Successes And Challenges. Employees respect when leadership is candid, and by communicating with your people, you'll help them gain confidence in the organization's future.

5. Meet With Groups Of Employees To Listen To Their Concerns And Solicit Their Suggestions. Employees who are involved in addressing challenges know that the company values their concerns and opinions. Town hall-style meetings are a great way for leaders to gather firsthand information that might not surface among their peers in a boardroom.

6. Ask Teams To Develop Their Own Plans For Improving Quality, Pleasing Customers And Reducing Costs. Harness your employees' energy and act on appropriate suggestions. Send a clear signal: Your people and their ideas are always valued, regardless of the economic environment.

7. Realign Performance Goals Based On New Market Realities. If you've changed your business strategy, let your employees know their goals may need to change as well. Articulate the new strategy and why flexibility is important.

8. Make Sure People Know How The Business Uncertainty Will Affect Rewards. Tell employees as soon as possible if their total rewards package will be changing. Your workforce would rather know what to expect, even if the news is less than desirable. No one likes surprises.

9. Challenge People To Cross-Train And Learn New Jobs. Employees can add value—for themselves and the organization—by acquiring new skills. Those who adapt may fare better during a restructuring, and will appreciate the opportunity to expand their skills.

10. Share Key Performance Indicators with Every Employee. This is especially important if your key measures have changed to battle the economic crisis. Communicating this information will also help people understand how their role contributes to the company's goals.


Thanks to Training Mag.



Wednesday, April 1, 2009

4 Keys to Preventing Workplace Horseplay

Today, we'll look at key points to teach your workers about the dangers of horseplay. BLR's 7-Minute Safety Trainer says that you need to train employees that fooling around on the job can be dangerous, and that they need to take their safety responsibilities seriously. The program recommends that you convey these essential points.
1. Horseplay and Fooling Around Are the Opposites of Safe, Responsible Work

According to the dictionary:
  • Horseplay means rough fun.
  • Fooling around means doing foolish, useless things.
  • Fool is a person with little or no judgment or common sense.
2. Workplace Rules Ban Horseplay Because It's Dangerous

Horseplay is usually a friendly, physical way to let off steam. But that type of fooling around is dangerous on the job because:
  • When you're fooling around, you're not concentrating on your work.
  • Directing your horseplay at others is even more dangerous. They're not expecting the distraction and could easily have an accident such as falling into a moving machine part, slipping on the floor, or dropping a tool.
  • Giving less than full concentration and attention to safety procedures makes you less likely to notice or account for hazards until it may be too late.
  • Most accidents are caused by unsafe acts—and horseplay itself is an unsafe act.
3. Horseplay Creates Unnecessary Risks
You can prevent most workplace accidents by being alert to hazards and following safety rules. You can't do either when you indulge in horseplay. Some examples:
  • Running, chasing, or pushing can cause slips, trips, falls, and other accidents. You may:
    • Not notice spills or items lying on the floor.
    • Crash into, or push someone else into, heavy equipment or moving parts.
    • Knock boxes or materials onto a person.
    • Knock over open containers of hazardous substances.
  • Throwing tools is a frequent cause of injuries. They may:
    • Stab someone with a sharp edge.
    • Hit someone in the head, eye, foot, etc., and cause an injury.
    • Fall from a height and hit a person below with tremendous impact.
  • Fooling around with PPE can damage it and expose you or another worker to a hazardous substance.
  • Speeding or stunt driving with a forklift can cause it to tip over or hit people or objects, possibly injuring the driver or pedestrians.
  • Climbing on or under forklift forks or moving crane parts can cause you to get crushed or pushed. It's against the law.
  • Running with a hand truck could spill the load on someone or run over feet.
  • Pushing, teasing, or otherwise distracting people working with machinery could cause pinch point or other injuries.
  • Practical jokes like "hiding" someone's PPE, dropping your half of a load, turning out lights, etc., are not funny—they're dangerous.
4. Take Your Job, Your Responsibilities, and Safety Seriously
  • You're responsible for performing your job correctly, which includes safely.
  • Safety rules and procedures are designed to protect you.
  • Everyone must follow safety rules.
    • Failure to follow the rules is dangerous—for you and for others.
    • Horseplay and other safety rule violations can lead to disciplinary action.
  • Don't indulge in horseplay or accuse those who won't go along of having "no sense of humor."
    • Think how bad you would feel if your horseplay injured or sickened someone else—maybe seriously.
  • Don't allow other people to engage you in horseplay.
Thanks to BLR

Stress Management Strategies for Travel Mishaps

Stress management calls for some preparation and planning to keep you from feeling overwhelmed. If you are aware of what could go wrong while you're traveling and have a backup plan for each scenario, you might not get quite so upset if a mishap does occur. You will also be better prepared to handle changes in your plans.

Here are some common travel issues and possible stress-relieving strategies for you to consider:

Delayed or Cancelled Flights
Problem: Especially if you have to make connecting flights, a delayed or cancelled flight can ruin a day or more of your trip if you aren't prepared.

Stress Management Strategy: Before you leave home, program your airline's reservations phone number into your cell phone. "If your flight is delayed, every passenger is going to be lining up at that departure gate to talk to that one representative to get on a different flight," says David Lytle, editorial director of "An easier way to resolve this is to call reservations directly at their toll-free number." Another approach is to walk out of the departure area and go back into the ticketing department. Or if you have Internet access and a computer, Lytle notes that some airlines will allow you to rebook a flight on their Web site; you can also look at the flight schedule to see which upcoming flights work best for your travel plans. To minimize your risk of delays altogether, consider arranging your travel schedule in a different way. "Fly first thing in the morning," Lytle suggests. "The earlier the flight, the better the chance of getting out on time. If there are delays later in the day, those flights back up [every flight that takes off after it]."

Long Wait Times
Problem: Nothing can be more tedious than hanging around for a flight to leave. This is especially difficult when you have kids in tow who quickly run out of patience and get bored.

Stress Management Strategy: Come prepared to wait. Lytle suggests bringing along reading materials, a DVD for your computer, or something else that will keep you and others with you entertained while you're in the airport. Flying earlier in the day and avoiding peak travel times can reduce your wait times in some cases. No one loves to fly at 6 in the morning, but it could save you a lot of hassle and stress.

Lost Luggage
Problem: This is not a happy situation, especially when you're going to a different climate that requires special clothing or when you have an important business meeting to attend.

Stress Management Strategy: You can be prepared for this possibility by always packing your essentials in a carry-on bag, including Rx medications, a change of clothes, and a few basic toiletries (remember the three-ounce limit on liquids in carry-on).

Rude People
Problem: Traveling creates stress for everyone: you, other travelers, and airport and airline employees. All it takes is one rude person to set the stage for everyone to be irritable.

Stress Management Strategy: In response, try to be pleasant and polite yourself, and never take out your frustrations on the airline staff. It is not their fault that your flight has been delayed or cancelled, and there's nothing they can do about it. But you're going to get more help and sympathy if you're nice about it. "The airline staff is there to help you, to facilitate your travels. When there is a delay, they are delayed, too," Lytle reminds travelers. "You can be courteous — a smile goes a long way. Recognize that the person trying to help you works in a stressful environment to begin with. You want to have an ally in this."

Additional Tips for Stress-Free Traveling
Even if you've planned ahead and are prepared, traveling can still cause stress and frustration. So, if you find yourself ready to blow a gasket, you need to find some ways to help yourself relax and stay calm. Here are some tips:

  • Be careful with alcohol. If you know that alcohol tends to make you angrier, and you're stuck waiting at the airport, limit yourself to one drink. Not only can alcohol lead to even more problems, but if you become too intoxicated, the airline can refuse to let you board.
  • Call ahead. To avoid having to wait several hours at the airport for a flight that's been delayed, call your airline or check online to see if your flight is on time. You'll be more relaxed waiting at home.
  • Plan flights carefully. When you have to book connecting flights, leave plenty of time in between so that you feel less stressed about making a close connection.

If you do get stressed or upset:

  • Try some deep breathing techniques. Take in a deep breath, drawing it all the way in from your diaphragm, and then slowly let it out. Repeat until you can feel your irritation level decreasing and your tension easing.
  • Use simple meditation. Repeat calming phrases to yourself, like "Relax," "It's okay," or "Don't worry about it."
  • Visualize. Going on a well-deserved vacation? Try picturing yourself at your vacation destination, enjoying yourself, and feeling completely relaxed. You'll be there soon enough.
  • Accept it. Sometimes, you just can't do anything about your circumstances. Don't fight what you have no control over. Remind yourself that the situation is out of your hands and that all you can do now is go with the flow.

When travel delays keep you from getting somewhere important, whether a special family event, a vacation, or a business meeting, it's easy to start feeling overwhelmed and aggravated. Planning ahead for such delays will help you keep your cool and, if you start to lose it, simple stress management techniques and relaxation tips will help you get your equanimity back.

Walk Away From Self-Created Dark Days

Blaming Someone Else for Your Gloomy Day Is Like Resenting the TV Weatherman Because It's Cold and Rainy Outside.
~~~ Guy Finley


Learning to Multitask: Simultaneous Reading and Writing

Classic Attentional Training Study Hints At Our Considerable Potential to Multitask.

The mind has a remarkable ability to focus attention on just one voice from a chorus (see: the cocktail party effect). But what about spreading our attention across different types of tasks? A classic 1976 study which taught two people to read and write at the same time hints at our considerable potential to multitask.

Professor Elizabeth Spelke and colleagues at Cornell University wanted to know whether we can really divide our conscious attention between two demanding tasks, like reading and writing. To find out they recruited two participants willing to put in 29 hours of practice over a 6 week period: Diane and John were their volunteers (Spelke, Hirst & Neisser, 1976).

Before the training Diane and John's normal reading and comprehension rates were measured, so it could be compared with post-training. Then Spelke and colleagues set about their three-phase training regime.

Phase 1: Simultaneous Reading and Writing

The first step was to get Diane and John reading and writing at the same time. To do this they read short stories by authors like Katherine Mansfield at the same time as writing down a list of words being dictated to them. Afterwards the experimenters checked their story comprehension and memory for the list of words. This procedure was continued throughout all three phases of the study.

Naturally when Diane and John first tried to multitask their reading speed, comprehension and memory all deteriorated. But surprisingly, after six weeks, they could read just as fast and with the same level of comprehension whether or not they were also taking dictation at the same time. They also often recognised more than two-thirds of the dictated words.

There is a problem with this study so far though: it's possible that Diane and John weren't really multitasking but had just leant to take dictation automatically and unconsciously. Spelke and colleagues knew they had to push Diane and John harder.

Phase 2: Detecting Structured Sub-Lists

Over the next few weeks Spelke and colleagues tested Diane and John's higher-level awareness of the dictated lists. Instead of dictating relatively unrelated words, patterns were now surreptitiously inserted into the lists, sometimes whole sentences.

Without forewarning Diane and John found these difficult to spot, but once told to search for the patterns they started noticing rhymes, categories of words and even sentences. Although still missing a few, they did spot many of the patterns the experimenters hid in the sub-lists.

Remember that this is all at the same time as reading an unrelated story at their normal speed and level of comprehension. In this second phase the participants' multitasking is even more impressive and it's harder to argue that the dictation has become automatic and unconscious because Diane and John could spot many of the patterns.

Phase 3: Reading While Categorising Words

In the third and final phase Diane and John were asked to just write down the category to which the words belonged rather than the words themselves. Again, their reading speed initially dropped when they were given this new task, but soon, with practice, it was back up to its original level.

After the 16 weeks of the study it seemed that both Diane and John could categorise lists of words and write down the name of the category at the same time as reading, and understanding, a sophisticated and completely unrelated short story.

Not only that but their reading speed and comprehension of the short story was unaffected compared with their pre-training tests. Quite an impressive feat of attention.

What Does This Mean?

Not everyone accepts that what Diane and John were doing was really multitasking. Here are some of the objections:

  • One of the tasks became automatic and therefore unconscious.
  • Similarly, people have complained the tasks weren't hard enough: reading and writing are already highly practised skills.
  • Diane and John were learning to switch their attention from one task to the other very quickly, not focus on both at the same time.
  • Two people is a very small sample size!

These are all good points, but ultimately there's still an impressive human performance here that requires explanation. Whether or not Diane and John were really multitasking, the research certainly implies that we can train our attention to carry out two sophisticated tasks which require conscious deliberation at the same time.

This is more than just simultaneously talking and driving, or patting the head while rubbing the stomach: both reading and writing involve relatively deep processing of similar types of linguistic information. Spelke and colleagues were clearly very impressed with Diane and John's new abilities and they suggest there may be no limits to training human attention, perhaps even no limits to our general cognitive capacity. All we need is some creativity along with plenty of time and practice.

Thanks to PsyBlog


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Chains That Bind

The circus elephant demonstrates what happens to us when we become tied to a habit. When an elephant is a baby, a strong chain is applied to one leg to keep it within a certain range. The baby elephant pulls against the chain, trying to escape, but is unable to do so. After many attempts, the baby elephant finally realizes that she will not be able to break the chain and so does not continue to pull at it.

As an adult, the elephant needs only to be restrained by a small chain that could be easily broken by the very strong elephant. However, she doesn't even try and remains within a limited circle. She has been fooled into thinking that she is limited to this small area and does not attempt to push beyond it.

This scenario demonstrates how we are restrained by our habits and limited thinking. When we meet resistance often enough, we begin to assume that our world is limited. Like the elephant, we are fooled into thinking that we are restricted to a certain lifestyle, because we have become accustomed to it.

Are you tied to old ideas and old thought processes? Do you believe that you must remain stuck in a confining, unsatisfying job merely because you have roped yourself into believing that you can't get promoted? Have you tied yourself up with the belief that this is all there is to life? Have you restricted yourself because you believe that as you get older, your body doesn't work as well as it used to?

Have you limited yourself in other ways, because your habitual thinking has imprisoned you in a cell with a window that only allows you to gaze upon a more desirable world? If so, do you really want to be confined to this very limited space, or do you want to advance to that which you desire?

It can be done! How? By recognizing that you are the one who accepted the restraints and you are the one who must remove them. It begins by asking yourself, "What do I really want and what am I willing to do about it?" If you feel resistant to making changes in your life, ask yourself what you will gain by remaining tied to the current circumstances. Then ask yourself how your life would change if you broke through the resistance and moved on to a different way of being or living.

Desire and imagination are the tools that will free us from an undesirable situation. This is the truth, and the truth shall set you free.


"I break away from those chains that bind me to an unhappy situation in my life. I use the tools of desire and imagination to provide me with freedom from the prison of limited and habitual negative thinking. I am pulling up stakes and moving on to a better life and a more joy-filled situation."
By Mary Rau-Foster


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Glossary of Depression Terms

Acetylcholine: A neurotransmitter that helps mediate learning and recollection.


Adrenal Glands: Two glands (one on top of each kidney) that secrete cortisol and norepinephrine.


Amygdala: A region of the brain that processes emotionally charged memories.


Antidepressant: A drug used to combat depression.


Antipsychotic: A drug used to treat psychotic symptoms, such as disordered thoughts, delusions, or hallucinations.


Brain Imaging: A variety of technologies, such as computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), functional MRI (fMRI), and positron emission tomography (PET), used to examine the structure or function of different regions of the brain.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A form of therapy that aims to correct ingrained patterns of negative thoughts and behaviors.


Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone (CRH): A hormone secreted by the hypothalamus that helps rouse the body when a physical or emotional threat appears.


Cortisol: A glucocorticoid, or steroid hormone, released by the adrenal glands and necessary to many basic body functions. This stress hormone is also involved in triggering the "fight or flight" response and similar responses.


Dopamine: A neurotransmitter that affects movement and influences thought processes, possibly affecting motivation and reward.


Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA): A neurotransmitter that may help quell anxiety.


Glutamate: A neurotransmitter that may play a role in mood disorders and schizophrenia.


hippocampus: A portion of the brain that plays a central role in processing long-term memories and recollection.


Hypomania: A mild mania.


Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis: A system that governs a multitude of hormonal activities in the body, including the body's responses to stress.


Hypothalamus: A network of nerves above the brainstem that regulates the body's self-maintenance functions (such as blood pressure, temperature, and fluids). It receives signals from elsewhere in the body and secretes hormones that influence the production of other hormones, such as cortisol and thyroid hormone.


Interpersonal Therapy: A form of therapy that concentrates on illuminating and ironing out problems in current relationships.


Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs): Antidepressant medications that act by preventing the breakdown of the monoamines serotonin and norepinephrine.


Neuron: A nerve cell.


Neurotransmitters: Chemicals such as serotonin or norepinephrine that convey messages across the gap (synapse) between adjoining neurons.


Norepinephrine: Sometimes called noradrenaline, this neurotransmitter plays a role in the regulation of mood, anxiety, and drive.


Pituitary Gland: A pea-sized organ located below the brain; it secretes adrenocorticotropic hormone.


Psychodynamic Therapy: A form of therapy that focuses on how life events, desires, and close relationships lead to conflict, symptoms such as anxiety or depression, and difficulty in managing life's tasks.


Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Sadness and depression that's brought on by a lack of exposure to sunlight. SAD usually appears in the fall or winter and subsides in the spring.


Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): Antidepressants that block the reuptake of serotonin into the neurons that released it, leaving more serotonin available to nerve cell receptors.


Serotonin: A neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain.


Thalamus: A central brain structure that relays sensory information.


Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs): A class of drugs that is thought to work by increasing the availability of norepinephrine and serotonin to nerve cell receptors.

Thanks to Waterfront Media, Inc.


Men Can Get the Blues

Depression has traditionally been considered a female disorder. But, men can and do get depressed. The big difference is that men may be less likely to seek treatment for depression because they see mental illness as a sign of weakness.

Depression is not a sign of weakness, however. It is a disease with biochemical causes. More than 17 million Americans suffer from depression every year, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA). And, the APA estimates that at least one out of every 10 men will have depression during their lifetime.

The Stigma

Many of those men will never get treated for their depression for a variety of reasons. The most important is that men are less willing to admit depression, according to Teodoro Bottiglieri, Ph.D., a senior research scientist and associate professor at Baylor University Medical Center and the author of Stop Depression Now. "There is a stigma attached to having any psychiatric illness. It's a point of vulnerability, like admitting you're impotent in public," he says.

Men, he said, are taught to just grin and bear it, get on with life and provide for their families. Dr. Norman Sussman, a psychiatrist at New York University Medical Center, agrees. "Men are less likely to seek treatment, in part because there's a tendency for men to tough it out," she says.

It's important for men to realize that "depression is a medical disorder that affects one's ability to feel and think in certain ways. It's a form of reversible brain failure," says Sussman. "It's not an indication of their character."

The problem with not coming forward is that depression tends to get worse, and affects all areas of a man's life. Many men will self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, says Sussman. And, men — especially older men — have higher rates of suicide than women do.

Another reason men don't get treatment may be that their doctors are missing the signs of depression. Sussman says it's possible that there may be a biased tendency in diagnosing depression, with doctors looking for it more in women than in men because the disease is so much more prevalent in women. Men also tend to downplay their symptoms if they discuss them with their doctors at all.

Depression, particularly in older men, may not always be obvious, says Dr. Steven Roose, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University and the director of the Neuropsychiatric Research Clinic at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. He says the symptoms are a little bit different, with older men reporting sleep disturbances, pain and loss of energy. Older men may not complain about having a depressed mood, he says. And many primary care physicians lack the training to recognize that it's depression. According to Roose, suicide is an epidemic in men over 60 — 20 percent of older men who attempted suicide had seen their doctor that day, and 70 percent had seen their doctor during the month leading up to their suicides.

"A review of mood state and ruling out the diagnosis of depression should be as much a standard procedure as taking a blood pressure," says Roose.

Roose adds that undiagnosed depression can also affect other areas of health. For example, men diagnosed with heart disease who are also depressed do much worse in terms of survival, according to Roose.

Signs and Symptoms

It's important that family members — particularly spouses — be on the lookout for signs of depression, says Bottiglieri, because many depressed people will not seek help.

Symptoms include:

  • sad mood that lasts for more than two weeks
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • lack of enjoyment from everyday activities, such as playing with children or playing golf
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • changes in appetite
  • trouble concentrating and making decisions
  • preoccupation with death and thoughts of suicide

In more severe cases of depression, people can be agitated or very lethargic. Eventually, they may be unable to function in their daily routine.


There are a number of medications available to treat depression and according to the APA, up to 90 percent of those treated have significant improvements. Treatment options include tricyclic antidepressants, MAO inhibitors, and the very popular selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs, like Prozac and Zoloft. Alternative treatments such as St. John's Wort and SAM-e are also available. Psychotherapy is sometimes useful in treating depression, though it is most effective when used in conjunction with medication. But, Sussman says, some men have difficulty opening up in psychotherapy.

The problem with some of the medical treatments is that they cause other problems, such as a loss of interest in sex. "SSRIs are well tolerated and safe, but they do have an effect on quality of life," says Sussman. Depending on which medication you take, side effects can include a loss of libido, difficulty or an inability to achieve orgasm, sleep problems, weight gain and a lack of feeling the full range of emotions. Tricylcic antidepressants may have dangerous interactions with heart medication.

"Patients should be told up front of the likelihood of side effects happening," says Sussman. "But, in primary care, people are often not forewarned."

Patients need to talk to their doctors about side effects because there are many choices out there, and if one medication produces unpleasant side effects, it's possible a different medication may not.

SSRIs can also have unexpected benefits. They are fairly effective at treating premature ejaculation, which may be something a man hasn't even discussed with his doctor. Also, according to Roose, they seem to have an antiplatelet effect similar to that of aspirin. So, while taking a medication to cure depression, men may also be improving their cardiovascular health.

St. John's Wort and SAM-e have also been used to treat depression. St. John's Wort doesn't appear to be as effective as was once believed, says Bottiglieri. He says it depends a lot on the dose taken and the actual amount of St. John's Wort in the product.

However, Bottliglieri does believe that SAM-e can be very useful in treating depression and says it's often used as a first-line treatment in Europe. It also has fewer side effects than other medications. He adds that dietary supplements like SAM-e have been criticized because doctors fear patients will self-medicate themselves instead of seeking help. But, he feels they have a place.

"At least they have a choice of something that may help if they're the type of person that won't seek help anyway," he says. He recommends 400 milligrams per day for mild depression, and for more severe depression, he recommends 800-1200 milligrams.

SAM-e also may work well in conjunction with SSRIs and may reduce the need for a high dose of the SSRI. Such a combination would have to be prescribed and monitored by a physician, however.

"Men really should seek medical attention for their depression. It is a life threatening situation that needs to be properly diagnosed and monitored," says Bottiglieri.

Roose concurs. "Depression is an illness and men should not feel it results from weakness. It doesn't reflect on their character any more than a broken leg does," he says.

By Serena Gordon / Waterfront Media, Inc.


What Is Dysthymia?

Mental health professionals use the term dysthymia (dis-THIGH-me-ah) to refer to a low-level drone of depression that lasts for at least two years in adults or one year in children and teens. While not as crippling as major depression, its persistent hold can keep you from feeling good and can intrude upon your work, school, and social life. If you were to equate depression with the color black, dysthymia might be likened to a dim gray. Unlike major depression, in which relatively short episodes may be separated by considerable spans of time, dysthymia lasts for an average of at least five years.  

If you suffer from dysthymia, more often than not you feel depressed during most of the day. You may carry out daily responsibilities, but much of the zest is gone from your life. Your depressed mood doesn't lift for more than two months at a time, and you also have at least two of the following symptoms:  

  • overeating or loss of appetite
  • insomnia or sleeping too much
  • tiredness or lack of energy
  • low self-esteem
  • trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • hopelessness.

Sometimes an episode of major depression occurs on top of dysthymia; this is known as double depression.  

Dysthymia often begins in childhood, the teen years, or early adulthood. Being drawn into this low-level depression appears to make major depression more likely. In fact, up to 75% of people who are diagnosed with dysthymia will have an episode of major depression within five years.  

It's difficult to escape the grasp of untreated dysthymia. Only about 10% of people spontaneously emerge from it in a given year. Some appear to get beyond it for as long as two months, only to spiral downward again. However, proper treatment eases dysthymia and other depressive disorders in about four out of five people.

Thanks to Waterfront Media, Inc.


What Is Depression?

While sadness touches all of our lives at different times, the illness of depression can have enormous depth and staying power. Even the ancient Greeks noted how disabling it could be, and that it was more than a passing bout of sadness or dejection, or feeling down in the dumps. If you have ever suffered from depression or been close to someone who has, you know that this illness cannot be lifted at will or wished or joked away. A man in the grip of depression can't solve his problems by showing a little more backbone. Nor can a woman who is depressed simply shake off the blues.
Being depressed has nothing to do with personal weakness. Scientists' developing knowledge of brain chemistry and findings from brain imaging studies reveal that changes in nerve pathways and brain chemicals called neurotransmitters can affect your moods and thoughts. These neurological changes may bubble up as symptoms of depression — including derailed sleep, suppressed appetite, agitation, exhaustion, or apathy. In addition, genetic studies show that although no single gene prompts depression, a combination of genetic variations may heighten vulnerability to this disease.
Nerve pathways, chemistry, and genetics aren't the whole story, though. Depression could be described as a lake fed by many streams. Its tributaries include traumatic or stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one, and psychological traits, such as a pessimistic outlook or a tendency toward isolation. An episode of depression may result from one particularly powerful experience or from a confluence of several factors. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, during a given year approximately 1 in 10 adults will suffer from some form of depression. Each episode usually affects a chain of people. It can fray bonds between you and your family and friends by spoiling intimacy, sapping emotional resources, and stealing the joy of shared pleasures.
Thankfully, years of research and breakthroughs have made this serious illness easier to treat. Early recognition of the signs of depression is more common than in the past. Newer treatments, such as drugs targeted at specific changes in brain chemistry, can cut short otherwise crippling episodes. A variety of drugs and therapies can also be combined to boost the likelihood of a full remission. 
Just like a rash or heart disease, depression can take many forms. Definitions of depression and the therapies designed to ease this disease's grip continue to evolve. These shifts will continue to percolate through the field as more research flows in.

What Is Major Depression?

Major depression may make you feel as though work, school, relationships, and other aspects of your life have been derailed or put on hold indefinitely. You feel constantly sad or burdened, or you lose interest in all activities, even those you previously enjoyed. This holds true nearly all day, on most days, and lasts at least two weeks. During this time, you also experience at least four of the following signs of depression:

  • a change in appetite that sometimes leads to weight loss or gain
  • insomnia or (less often) oversleeping
  • a slowdown in talking and performing tasks or, conversely, restlessness and an inability to sit still
  • loss of energy or feeling tired much of the time
  • problems concentrating or making decisions
  • feelings of worthlessness or excessive, inappropriate guilt
  • thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide plans or attempts.
Other signs can include a loss of sexual desire, pessimistic or hopeless feelings, and physical symptoms such as headaches, unexplained aches and pains, or digestive problems. Depression and anxiety often occur simultaneously, so you may also feel worried or distressed more often than you used to.
Although these symptoms are hallmarks of depression, if you talk to any two depressed people about their experiences, you might well think they were describing entirely different illnesses. For example, one might not be able to summon the energy to leave the house, while the other might feel agitated and restless. One might feel deeply sad and break into tears easily. The other might snap irritably at the least provocation. One might pick at food, while the other might munch constantly. On a subtler level, two people might both report feeling sad, but the quality of their moods could differ substantially in depth and darkness. Also, symptoms may gather over a period of days, weeks, or months.
Despite such wide variations, depression does have certain common patterns. For example, women are almost twice as likely as men to suffer from depression. And while major depression may start at any time in life, the initial episode occurs, on average, during the mid-20s.
Depression or hopelessness may feel so paralyzing that you find it hard to seek help. Even worse, you may believe that treatment could never overcome the juggernaut bearing down.
Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The vast majority of people who receive proper treatment rebound emotionally within two to six weeks and then take pleasure in life once again. When major depression goes untreated, though, suffering can last for months.
Furthermore, episodes of depression frequently recur. About half of those who sink into an episode of major depression will have at least one more episode later in life. Some researchers think that diagnosing depression early and treating it successfully can help forestall such recurrences. They suspect that the more episodes of depression you've had, the more likely you are to have future episodes, because depression may cause enduring changes in brain circuits and chemicals that affect mood (see The Problem of Recurrence). In addition, people who suffer from recurrent major depression have a higher risk of developing bipolar disorder than people who experience a single episode.

What Is Dysthymia?

Mental health professionals use the term dysthymia (dis-THIGH-me-ah) to refer to a low-level drone of depression that lasts for at least two years in adults or one year in children and teens. While not as crippling as major depression, its persistent hold can keep you from feeling good and can intrude upon your work, school, and social life. If you were to equate depression with the color black, dysthymia might be likened to a dim gray. Unlike major depression, in which relatively short episodes may be separated by considerable spans of time, dysthymia lasts for an average of at least five years.  

If you suffer from dysthymia, more often than not you feel depressed during most of the day. You may carry out daily responsibilities, but much of the zest is gone from your life. Your depressed mood doesn't lift for more than two months at a time, and you also have at least two of the following symptoms:  

  • overeating or loss of appetite
  • insomnia or sleeping too much
  • tiredness or lack of energy
  • low self-esteem
  • trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • hopelessness.

Sometimes an episode of major depression occurs on top of dysthymia; this is known as double depression.  

Dysthymia often begins in childhood, the teen years, or early adulthood. Being drawn into this low-level depression appears to make major depression more likely. In fact, up to 75% of people who are diagnosed with dysthymia will have an episode of major depression within five years.  

It's difficult to escape the grasp of untreated dysthymia. Only about 10% of people spontaneously emerge from it in a given year. Some appear to get beyond it for as long as two months, only to spiral downward again. However, proper treatment eases dysthymia and other depressive disorders in about four out of five people.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder always includes one or more episodes of mania, characterized by high mood, grandiose thoughts, and erratic behavior. It also often includes episodes of depression. During a typical manic episode, you would feel terrifically elated, expansive, or irritated over the course of a week or longer. You would also experience at least three of the following symptoms: 
  • grandiose ideas or pumped-up self-esteem
  • far less need for sleep than normal
  • an urgent desire to talk
  • racing thoughts and distractibility
  • increased activity that may be directed to accomplishing a goal or expressed as agitation
  • a pleasure-seeking urge that might get funneled into sexual sprees, overspending, or a variety of schemes, often with disastrous consequences.
Between episodes, you might feel completely normal for months or even years. Or you might experience faster mood swings (known as rapid cycling). Bipolar disorder actually takes many forms. For example, symptoms of depression and mania may be mixed during cycles. Or you might not have full-blown mania; instead, you could have a milder version known as hypomania.
Bipolar disorder usually starts in early adulthood. It's equally common among women and men, although certain variations of it strike one sex more than the other. Hypomania, for example, occurs more often in women. Women are also more likely to experience major depression as their first episode and to have more depressive episodes over all. Men, on the other hand, typically experience manic episodes first and tend to have more of them than depressive cycles.
Bipolar disorder is a recurring illness. Nine out of 10 people who have a single manic episode can expect to have repeat experiences. Suicide rates in people who have bipolar disorder are higher than average. Successful treatment, however, can cut down on the number and intensity of episodes and reduce suicide risk.
Thanks to Waterfront Media, Inc.