The Key to Balancing Mental Health Treatment and Professional Responsibilities

Too often, people with high-stress, high-level jobs avoid getting treatment for mental health issues. They are afraid of the stigma but also largely fearful about what missing work would mean. It is important to find balance and prepare for their future by getting the treatment that they need. In a residential treatment center that places high value on maintaining the privacy of its guests, executives and others can maintain a connection to their work while getting the help they require to live full, healthy lives.

It was another night without sleep for Kathryn. These were not uncommon; lately, a good night’s sleep was an aberration. In theory, this was understandable: there was a major shareholder’s meeting in two weeks, and as CFO of a large company, she was the one to deliver the news. But what she couldn’t understand was why she was nervous: the news was largely good. The company was doing great. Her stress was wildly disproportionate to the problem. But she was constantly nauseous, could barely concentrate, and felt oddly hyper and irritated all the time. This was a problem that had been building over the last year. She chalked it up to “stress” until someone told her she might be suffering from severe anxiety, brought on by the demands of work and her fear of failure.

Kathryn knew her friend was right, but she decided she couldn’t do anything about it. There was the shareholder meeting. They were in the middle of a large acquisition. There was always work. Her mental health could—no, she told herself, had to—take a backseat to the job. She didn’t allow for the possibility that she could have both: some of her work and the in-depth professional residential treatment she needed to get her life back in order. Going to a facility that understands the needs of executives and delivers them the high-quality treatment, privacy, and flexibility they need to succeed can help people like Kathryn not have to make that difficult choice between work and health.

Why Executives Avoid Getting Treatment

For many executives and others in high-level jobs, taking time off to get residential treatment for mental health issues seems impossible. There are a few reasons for this.

  • There’s still a stigma around mental health, especially in the workplace. 60-80% of people with mental illness are unemployed, and while there is some evidence that CEOs suffer from bipolar disorder in a disproportionate amount, it is largely hidden. Just the act of coming out with a mental disorder or hiring someone for a high-level position who is open about it is still considered brave.
  • Even more so, missing things in business is always bad. Not being able to talk to clients or sit in on board meetings or meet with prospective partners can be extremely bad for business, so taking a month off for wellness doesn’t seem to be an option.
  • The first two reasons are combined if the reason work is being missed is because you had to take time off for mental illness issues. While the world is thankfully changing, and acceptance of these pervasive (25% of Americans will suffer from one at one point or another) issues is getting better, it still can look bad to miss out because you are suffering from a mental disorder. It could be perceived as a sign of weakness, and unreliability.

So executives rarely want to get help because they don’t want to admit why they might be missing meetings and other important events. But that balance can be found, and more importantly, it can be found in a way that helps them deal with the underlying issues that are impacting their lives and work. Smart therapy prepares them to go back to the same places that either created or exacerbated their illness.

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Finding a Balance and Preparing for the Future

Of course, in theory, it is easy to get treatment and do your job. Kathryn thought that she could maybe pop in once or twice a week, and if absolutely necessary, get intensive outpatient treatment (at an IOP). That way, she could receive therapy and not miss a beat. But her therapy was disjointed, and difficult. She squeezed sessions in here and there, canceling them when something “more important” came up, which seemed like it always did. She never found a rhythm or got the kind of closeness to counselors or peers that she needed. More so, she kept jumping back into the same anxiety-creating situations before having a chance to learn how to make them better.

That is what residential therapy that allows executives to dive into their problems—while having some connection with the outside world—can do.
A residential treatment center that has extensive work with executives knows to be adaptable to their situation. This means scheduling time to check phones and laptops. It means being able to participate in conference calls if scheduled in advance. It means being able to communicate with their team.

However, it is also the knowledge that work will take a backseat to treatment. The right kind of therapyhelps high-powered and high-stress people “self-soothe”, that is, understand how the connection to communication can be a cause of stress, anxiety, and misery. It will help the patient consider the impact that the endless array of calls, meetings, emails, decisions, and more has had on their life, and prepares them to go back to that with the tools they need to succeed.

That was something that Kathryn needed. In residential treatment, she was happily surprised to learn that she was surrounded by peers: other executives, C-Suite types, along with several doctors and lawyers. While they were largely anonymous (she chose to use a pseudonym, respected by the staff), they all had similar experiences. And that helped with work. She was able to talk to them about strategies and plans for dealing with her stress and anxiety when work came calling. They even did a practice conference call, so that she could start to understand her triggers in a safe space.

When there was a call that she absolutely could not afford to miss, she was able to do so from the facility, with a therapist next to her, helping her along. At this point, she had learned what set her off, what made her heart beat so quickly and a cloud of impending doom descend around her. To her surprise, those feelings were muted. They were there, but occluded and distant. She didn’t stay up all night stressing over what had happened. It was different.

When she eventually returned to work full time, the lessons she had learned, and the treatment she received, made her a different person. She was just as focused, just as dedicated, and just as driven to pursue success for herself and the company, but she was no longer crippled with anxiety. She was able to do the work she was excellent at without being beset by dread, nervousness, and irritability.

As so many executives who suffer from mental disorders have learned, they can receive the residential treatment they need and maintain a limited but vital connection to the workplace. More importantly, they can learn how to handle their disorder while doing the work they love to do. They can avoid triggers, identify a safe and effective medication routine, and continue to receive treatment as needed. In short, they can learn to be themselves, fully: hard-working and in balance.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential treatment for executives and others in high-level professions who struggle with mental health disorders, co-occurring impulse control disorders, and eating disorders. We understand your situation and needs and respect your privacy. Contact us to learn more about our innovative program and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to sustainable wellness.

Image Source: Unsplash user Benjamin Child