Depression in High Achievers

some of you may have seen my post on Chief Delphi but I seem to have made somewhat of an impact with it so i feel i should post it here to. If this post is off pour taste then by all means please delete it.

Anyways, I’m curious, after struggling with depression for a year and just being diagnosed officially, I’ve been told that depression is common with “high achievers”. Seeing as quite a few FIRSTer’s do very well academically I’m wondering if this is a common problem. To anybody who is like me, and hid it for a year, don’t. There’s help out there.

Thanks everyone. With clinical depression, it’s taken me a year to get to this point. I don’t really care to keep lying about it anymore. Was quite the shocker to everybody I know.

There weren’t really any resources, I met some people through robotics on other teams and a couple have been through it. Somehow I doubt I would’ve made it this far without them.

If you do have depression though, take my advice, you’re not alone. Go somewhere, even adults (and yes, I know how hard it is to talk about it)


Thanks for sharing something that’s difficult to talk about. Though I like to think of myself as a generally positive person, I also struggled with depression for more than a year over 15 years ago.

Though the cause is different for each person, often it stems from a gap between what we think we ought to be and where we really are. It’s true that high achievers are especially vunerable here – set a high standard, and it’s more likely that you’ll fail to reach it. Sometimes redefining your measure of success is helpful – you may not win a top award, but you look back and realize that you learned new skills and made friends along the way and realize that your experience is a “success.” And if you have achieved, realize that you don’t always have to give an “encore” performance.

In my case, the redefinition came in the form of employment. My husband and I had relocated to attend to aging parents, and we were unemployed/underemployed for more than a year. When we both got part-time teaching jobs at a local college, we felt we had “arrived.” A lot of our acquaintances ask, “Aren’t you applying for REAL jobs?” but the reality is that we’ve made a very good life for 15 years on 2 part-time incomes, and we’re content, not depressed about what we have.

Professional treatment might have been helpful, but we couldn’t afford it. Ultimately what got me through was a deep-seated religious conviction that my life was more than the sum of the molecules in my body, my outward achievements, or even the number of people I helped. That truth trumped all the little voices that said, “You’re not good enough.”

Quite frankly, I felt lousy much of that year of unemployment, and I think we need to give ourselves permission to feel lousy in certain circumstances. If you’ve lost a loved one, it is normal to feel grief, and trying to “cheer up” can be counterproductive. But after a time of ruminating, I did force myself to get involved in volunteer work, not to justify my existence, but mainly to distract myself, and a byproduct was the good feelings that came from being useful. Time and a change of circumstance eventually brought better days, and I was glad that I had hung on to see those better days.

If there are therapies or techniques that improve your situation, by all means pursue those. But if nothing else works, the truth is that you have value beyond description, and whether you feel it or not does not change that reality. That truth is a great thing to hang onto while waiting for better days to come.


I struggled with depression for years. Finally during a visit to the doctor’s office (that had nothing to do with depression) the doctor asked me if I felt cold. “I always feel cold”, I told her. A quick blood test revealed that I have a thyroid condition. Depression, feeling cold, and weight issues are some common symptoms. I’m not a medical doctor, so I will not comment any further.

Now I take one pill in the morning and I’m fine. If you have not been tested for this, ask a doctor. It’s not something they normally screen for in blood tests. And its much more common in women then men. But I’m living proof it does happen to men.

Other than that, I’d like to share some of ideas about fighting the blues. I develped these habits before I knew about the thyroid condition, but there is no reason to stop them now.

Number one – do something nice and expect nothing in return. That is the greatest cure. There is no greater joy than selflessly helping another person, or even an animal. If you’re mentoring a robotic team, you probably already know this. You may also want to consider volunteering at your local animal shelter, food-pantry, etc. Hospitals and nursing homes are always looking for volunteers to visit their patients, too.

Next, memorize a happy song. My favorite is a Beethoven symphony with words by Henry van Dyke. Its especially powerful if you imagine it the way Beethoven intended it. Beethoven was the “rock star” of his era, you know. The song is performed by starting from absolute silence. The choir’ and orchestra’s initial sound surprises you with the impact-force of a shock wave.

Once you learn the words, you can play the song in your head. There is no way to feel bad with those ideas running through your head. Or pick your own song, as long as it makes you feel good.

Finally learn something new. If you like the subject, then do something with your new knowledge. For example, I’ll take just about any kind of non-fiction book out of the library and struggle through at least the first few chapters.

Of course you need to schedule ‘learning time’ to do that. It takes self discipline, commitment and perservernce. But making yourself do it forces you to overcome the blues. And the motivation is simple. There is an inner joy that comes from mastering something that just a little while before you knew nothing about.

For example, one of the topics I ‘forced’ myself to learn was robotics. It was actually a rather difficult book on industrial robots (I’m guessing that was about 1995). But I found that I enjoyed robotics and ended up reading more and more about them. Today I’ve put that knowledge to use by getting involved with FIRST. FIRST provides plenty of opportunities to do nice things for others and expect nothing in return.

Perhaps once you finally beat this thing you can write a book titled “The joy of Robotics”. I’d buy a copy and struggle through it. :slight_smile:

Good luck and best wishes,