Leadership Talk with Ruth Spence

Dr. Spence says that "Anyone can suffer from depression, it's not always obvious." {Image: Charlie, the main character in Charlie & The Black Dog, Courtesy)

Dr. Ruth Spence is a Research Fellow at  the Centre for Trauma and Abuse Studies, Middlesex University in London.  She holds a PhD in Developmental Psychiatry from the University of Cambridge.  She recently wrote a children’s book about depression titled Charlie & The Black Dog.

What should business leaders know about depression? 

Businesses cannot afford to ignore depression, it is both prevalent and costly in terms of personal suffering and economically.

Companies need to start discussing mental illness to reduce the stigma and find ways to address their impact. 

How prevalent is depression in the world? 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is the largest contributor to global disability and it is increasing globally; between 2007 and 2017, the prevalence of depressive disorders increased by 14.3% 

Dr. Ruth Spence (Courtesy)

How prevalent is it in Israel? 

The World Health Organisation estimates that approximately 4.6% of Israel’s population is living with a depressive disorder.

How does depression impact a businesses’ profitability? 

Depression is a leading cause of lost productivity at work, both in terms of absenteeism but also ‘presenteeism’ – employees being on the job but because of illness not fully functioning.

Research suggests depression costs employers US$4,895 per year per affected employee or around US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity. 

What age groups are impacted by depression? 

All age groups are impacted by depression, recent research has shown it can arise as early as age 3, it isn’t common but there have been estimates of 1-2% for children up to age 13, then there is a rise in the rates.

People often think of depression as a problem for adults. How does it impact children? 

It has an effect on their development – both socially and cognitively. For instance, it affects their self-esteem and can impair their ability to recognise and respond to emotions, as well as making them more sensitive to rejection and reducing their social networks.

What causes it?

Sometimes young people won’t be able to identify why they started feeling depressed but common causes include being bullied, changing school or moving home, parental tension (e.g. arguments and/or divorce) and bereavement. 

What does it look like? 

Children who are depressed may be very sad and cry a lot, or they can be angry and irritable. They may lose interest in things they used to enjoy or refuse to go to school and it may also cause them to have problems with sleep or behaviour.

Why did you write a children’s book about depression? 

I wrote it because there aren’t that many books for children that have depression and books are a great way to educate, normalize and start discussions with children. Especially when it’s a topic people might be a bit worried about bringing up or unsure of themselves. 

Charlie & The Black Dog (Courtesy)

What is the book about?

The book is about Charlie, she is a fun loving girl, who likes riding her bike, reading books and playing games. That is until she makes friends with a black dog who makes her feel tired, grumpy and really sad. Her mum notices and luckily knows how to help.

The Black Dog from Charlie & The Black Dog (Courtesy)

How is Charlie & The Black Dog being published?

I’m currently running a crowdfunding campaign to get the book professionally edited, published and distributed.  Half of the proceeds from the book will support Shaw Mind, a mental health charity providing space where people can feel safe and comfortable to “just breathe”.

About the Author
Sherman holds an MBA from The Kedge Business School, a Grande Ecole de Commerce et de management in France, which included time as an executive exchange scholar at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. He has a BA from The University of California, San Diego, San Diego, and a Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Duke University.
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