I am a medical marketing specialist with mental illness.
I am also a mental illness survivor. These are words that are hard for me to say in my practical world. They have been silent about the majority of my colleagues for the past fifteen years. Opening up in this way is hard, vulnerable and intimidating – but it’s also realistic. It’s my truth.
The main reason for silence is stigma. What is the actual stigma? Your initial reaction to this post will likely be.
If I were to title this article “I’m a Medical Marketing Professional and Suffer From Cancer,” you would have reacted differently. This is the stigma.
The John you know is the comforting guy. It is external. My goal as a professional and leader is to appear warm, funny, confident and caring.
Indoor is quite the opposite. It feels like a toxic wasteland. This is a mental illness. A line from therapy stuck with me sums it up well: “John, we hope you love yourself the way we love you.” I do that too. I’m still working on it.
For me, mental illness is an obsession. It is all-consuming, irrational, and static. My mind never stops racing. I feel depression and anxiety in every cell of my body at all times. It’s a 24 hour dread. I have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
He continues to win as he grows and strengthens while society forces people with mental illness to remain silent – especially at work. PTSD has my nervous system in overdrive at all times. I live in a world of fight or flight. Today, I am trying to beat the disease and be clean for my work community.
Among the things I’ve been told over the years is: “What do you have to be depressed about?”
“Get out of it – you have a family to support.” “throw it away – I was sad and unhappy before. “Do you want me to take you behind the barn and kick your ass?” (Seriously, it happened).
Would I have heard anything like that if I had been diagnosed with cancer or any other debilitating disease? Communities gather around people with cancer. Those who survived are called “warriors.”
The exact opposite happens with mental illness, although it is also a disease that the individual did not ask for. However, in this case, there is limited support and there is a shame. You suffer in silence, especially at work, as your family suffers. If the disease wins and takes your life, you are believed to be selfish.
Worse, there is no consistent way to achieve relief. In the past 15 years, I have participated in two inpatient programs, three partial hospitalization programs and three intensive outpatient programs. I’ve attended support groups and therapy every two weeks, and I’ve tried 10+ medications.
During those occasions when I had the energy to do so, I adjusted my diet and exercise regimen. Example: During a severe depressive episode two years ago, I collected all the energy I had. I managed to walk for five minutes on the treadmill at 1.2 mph. After that, I felt like I ran a marathon.
Unfortunately, my disease has come back in force this year. In 2021, she endured more than 10 iterations. It was nothing short of misery. Heck, I should probably get out of it like people say. If someone has the superpower to beat me, please let me know. I am a game.
As for what mental illness looks like to me at work, I can drive a champagne toast to a new business win—but the illness makes me want to crash my car into a tree on my way home. I feel 5% are responsible for good business news but 95% are responsible for bad business news.
I owe my professional success to the real-world MBA degree I received from Klein Davis and Mann, but the onset of my mental illness took me away from the company. The stress of normal work was magnified by my illness and I decided to change my profession. If I didn’t suffer from mental illness, I would most likely have to work there.
The good news is that employers such as GSW/Syneos Health and PSL Group couldn’t be more helpful, understanding, and supportive.
Now that I’m back at PSL again, the disease is trying to win again. I have been open and honest about my struggles with management and still receive nothing less than love and kindness.
I have been very fortunate to work directly with many industry giants, including Sonja Foster-Storch, Josh Prince, Mike Sheehan, Amy Hutnik, Ken Begasse, Kyle Barich, Chris Boerner, Debbie Renner, Rob Bosley, Ed Wise and Nina Greenberg. I know that if I told them that I had a severe mental illness and that I was working tirelessly to beat it, every single one of them would give me an amazing hug. They were telling me they loved me and to keep fighting. They might even send a pie home. These are the people who matter in my practical world, not the ignorant who can’t or don’t realize that this is a ruthless and relentless disease.
Now that I’ve opened up about this irrationally stigmatized secret, the future will be brighter and lighter. Something very strange has happened to me over the past week: My mood benchmark has risen 2 from 10 more steadily to 5.
Maybe my new medication is working. Perhaps I am excited about the possibility of being accepted into a pilot clinical trial for depression. Or perhaps he is simply opening up about all aspects of my life about suffering from mental illness.
If you are suffering, you are not alone. Please do not suffer in silence. Let people know you are suffering. You will be impressed with the support you receive. I’ve recently opened up to all the pillars of my life: work, friends, family, and my coaching community. I received nothing but love and affection in return.
So I call on the medical marketing industry to do the following: stop the judgment. educate yourself. Show empathy. Show sympathy. Do your part to break the stigma associated with mental illness. I, I will dedicate my life to four things: my health, my wife, my children and destroying the stigma around mental illness.
I will most likely never be at 10 out of 10. But the number 5 is cool when you know what the number 1 looks like.
If you struggle with your mental health, these organizations can provide support and resources:
SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support)
Listen to “Mental Illness in the World of Medical Marketing,” an episode of the MM+M podcast featuring John Nelson in conversation with Larry Dubrow, here.
Do you think the medical marketing industry is supportive of people in business who suffer from mental illness? Share your thoughts with MM + M.