7 Barriers to Residential Mental Health Treatment for Executives

Executives and other high-powered individuals are no less likely to experience mental illness than other people, but they do face special barriers to residential mental health treatment that can keep them from getting the help they need to heal. By seeking specialized care that caters to the needs of executives, you can begin your recovery journey in a comfortable, private environment designed for your unique situation.

“I had a million excuses,” Matthew tells me. “I worked hard to deny my depression, even when it became clear as day to those around me, and my career was a big part of that.”

Matthew’s career was indeed impressive. Since getting his MBA, he had shot up through the ranks of the finance industry and by his 30s he was managing an 8-figure hedge fund. He was respected and even revered by his peers, who saw him as a shining star in the financial landscape. But while his professional life flourished, major depression began to creep in.

It started with a loss of energy. A loss of spark. A feeling of dread. His wife noticed and tried to intervene. “She would tell me, ‘You’re not yourself.’ But I always had a reason—it was stress from work, it was the big meeting, it was the market,” he says, “My work gave me what I believed to be concrete evidence that I had things under control and it also gave me reasons for my symptoms, in spite of which I was doing great professionally. That wouldn’t be the case if I were depressed, right? And even if I was, I couldn’t take time away to go to residential treatment; it would destroy everything I had worked for.”

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Exploring the Barriers to Mental Health Treatment for Executives


Virtually everyone has reasons to not seek mental health treatment. Executives and other high-achieving individuals, however, often face special obstacles to residential treatment due to the nature of their disorders, their personalities, and their professional status. Realistically acknowledging and assessing those internal and external obstacles is a vital part of overcoming the denial and shame that can prevent you from beginning the healing process.

I’m Different

When we envision what serious mental illness looks like, most versions do not include a successful career. And, if your desire—consciously or unconsciously—is to deny the severity or even the existence of your disorder, it can be tempting to hold up your professional status as proof that you don’t need treatment. After all, would a person with a psychiatric disorder be thriving at work?

Despite the stereotypes, the answer is often a resounding “yes.” Many people with mental health issues are high achievers (or even over-achievers)—in fact, mental health and achievement are sometimes deeply connected, whether your mental illness contributes to your success or your work life contributes to your distress. Or both. If you value your career, taking control of your mental health is the best way to ensure that you will be able to work up to your potential and can fulfill your professional goals.

I’m Too Important

When you shoulder significant professional responsibility, taking a break may seem unacceptable. After all, your role is integral, and your expertise highly valued. But chances are that your mental health disorder has already begun to affect your work and, if it hasn’t already, it almost certainly will in the future. Taking the time to attend residential mental health treatment is an investment you make for long-term returns in both your personal and professional life, giving you the emotional and behavioral stability you need to continue to thrive.

What If I Lose My Job?

Successful careers don’t just happen by chance. The thought of losing it all and seeing the gains of your years of hard work and dedication disappear by seeking treatment can be overwhelming and frightening. However, federal labor laws like the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) ensure that your job is protected while you get the help you need.

Because you are a highly valued member of your organization, you may also find that your employer is happy to accommodate you even beyond the federally mandated minimums. It is, after all, in their best interest to get you back to your full potential. Furthermore, the power of denial means that you are sometimes the last person to see your mental illness for what it is; it is likely already apparent to those who are close to you, including your colleagues. Ultimately, it is not treatment that will endanger your job, but your illness itself.

People Are Counting on Me

Many of us feel a sense of duty or obligation to those we work with, whether superiors, peers, board members, or employees. As such, taking leave from work to seek residential mental health treatment can feel like a betrayal because you’re shouldering others with an increased workload in your absence or compromising their ability to work to the best of their potential. What will happen if you are not there to do your part, bolster morale, and ensure that things are running as they should?

This dedication to your team is admirable, but it is also short-sighted. The time you spend at a residential mental health disorder treatment program can be weathered far more easily than the effects of untreated mental illness, and the sooner you get help, the more likely you are to successfully recover.

People Will Think of Me Differently

Professional success often means that you have spent years building fruitful relationships and establishing yourself as a leader both within your organization and your field. The fear that people will view you differently if you seek mental health treatment is very real. Maybe people won’t want to work with you. Maybe you won’t be seen as trustworthy. Maybe you will seem weak or “crazy.”

Unfortunately, the reality is that there will always be uninformed people who will judge mental illness. However, due to increased public awareness and destigmatization efforts, more and more people understand that mental health disorders are illnesses like any other. As Chris Gory writes in The Globe And Mail, “Lots of entrepreneurs are becoming more open about their struggles with depression and anxiety, and helping others deal with their own mental health issues.”

I Can’t Leave My Children

One of the most significant barriers faced by working parents is fear of not being present in their children’s lives if they go to treatment. This is even more true for busy professionals, who often have to work hard to fit in quality time with their children as it is.

While being separated from your children during treatment can indeed be difficult for both of you, it is important to remember that your children need you to be healthy. Learning to care for and love yourself is essential to being able to care for and love your children. In the case of custody, seeking treatment shows that you are committed to healing and being a better parent; untreated mental illness, however, cancompromise custody, as well as your ability to parent in a safe and effective way.

I Won’t Fit In

Popular media representations of residential mental health treatment can be alienating to successful people whose professional lives have escaped relatively unscathed by mental illness thus far; you don’t see yourself represented and don’t feel as if you’ll fit in with people who do go to treatment. But the truth is that mental illness does not discriminate based on class or professional status. You are not alone in your struggle and you will find other successful individuals like you in treatment, particularly if you choose a private facility with self-admitted clients.

Once in treatment, you are also likely to find that psychiatric distress is an equalizer. While you may face different specifics of circumstance, the shared experience of mental illness often creates a foundation for compassion, sharing, and support that cuts across superficial boundaries.

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Seeking Specialized Care


In recent years, increased recognition of the special barriers executives and other high-powered individuals face to residential mental health treatment has led to the development of specialized programs designed to meet your needs. The best of these programs offer comprehensive curriculums that are rooted in evidence-based medicine, invite you to explore the roots of your distress, and open up multiple pathways to healing through diverse, integrative therapies. Located in beautiful, intimate facilities, these executive recovery programs ensure that you enjoy the comforts of home and that your privacy is respected at all times.

While removing yourself entirely from your everyday life, including professional obligations, is often the best way to fully devote yourself to the recovery process, this may not always be possible. In these cases, it is particularly important to seek out a residential treatment facility with the resources necessary to accommodate your work-related needs.

By giving yourself the time and space to heal from your mental health disorder, you will experience a new level of clarity, tranquility, and personal fulfillment that is not possible in a state of untreated illness. Residential treatment gives you the tools you need to achieve your personal and professional goals in ways that are healthy and safe, ultimately giving you richer, deeper experiences and lasting freedom from psychiatric distress.

Bridges to Recovery provides comprehensive residential treatment for those struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance abuse and eating disorders. We understand the unique needs of executives and tailor all of our programs to the needs of each individual. Contact us to find out how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward recovery.

Lead image source: Unsplash user Capitol Standard