living with depression

The Depressed Leader

Like a nervous alcoholic attending their first AA meeting, I stand before you and say, “Hi, my name is Dave, and I suffer from depression.”

In my early twenties I was diagnosed with a mild form of depression. I’m sure if depression were a more talked about subject, I would have been diagnosed years earlier, but because it was still had some stigma around it, I just hid my struggles.  I thought I was a smart guy, and that if I just focused hard enough I could control my feelings. Finally when the doctor talked to me about the test results he had run on me, and prescribed anti-depressants, I realized that maybe it was something that was stronger than I was.

At the time I was working as a professional ice hockey coach, and I felt that I couldn’t show any weakness. I hid my pain away, and I didn’t tell anyone I was on anti-depressants, not even my closest family and friends.

During my 2010 season my team was sold mid-season, and the new owner of the team brought in all his own coaches and office staff. We got back from a road trip, walked into the office and were handed our layoff notices. A life I had built in that city for 4 seasons was suddenly flipped upside down. I sank into a dark place, and for a solid month didn’t want to even get out of bed. I just watched Seinfeld reruns on TV.

I began to question in my head if it was possible to suffer from depression and still be a leader. I was expected to be strong, calm, and in control – but inside I was feeling like there was a war going on between my logic and my emotions. The “hockey world” is a tough world, and the coach isn’t supposed to show weakness, and the coach definitely isn’t supposed to be “sad” for no reason. I began to wonder, was this the end of a job, or the end of a career.

As I sat at home watching TV one day, I flipped onto a documentary. The documentary was discussing depression and it featured some hockey players. I felt like they were talking directly to me. Here were people in my field who were saying they had depression. They were expressing their feelings, openly, honestly, without shame. It was amazing.

Slowly I tried to open up a little bit and talk with some friends and family about my illness. I was shocked to find that when I would be honest about my struggles, people would suddenly open up about their struggles as well. Friends and family came out of the woodwork and felt comfortable telling me about their struggle with depression. The more people I would talk about it with, the more confidence it gave me.

Today I think that my depression actually makes me a better leader and coach. A leader needs to be human, and humans struggle sometime. I entered back into the professional coaching world, but this time with a new philosophy on coaching; I wouldn’t be an angry, highly stressed, rock of a coach. Rather I would try to be open, honest, and real with my players. I struggled, and I’m sure they did too.

Depression doesn’t make me weak. Yes, I have bad days, days that I struggle, days that I am feeling down in the dumps, but the difference is now I talk about it. You would be surprised at how many professional athletes struggle with similar feelings. You would also be surprised to find how many friends, family members, CEOs, business leaders, politicians, and leaders suffer from depression.

I made the decision that I want to focus 100% on my happiness. I want everything in my life to work towards happiness. When I publish books it’s because it makes me happy. When I build my company, when I coach hockey, when I do public speaking events, it’s all because it makes me happy.  When there are people or situations in my life that don’t make me happy then I get rid of them as fast as possible. Life’s too short to deal with those jerks. I want to be around people who are passionate, honest, and not afraid to feel something – good or bad.

Much Love Friends,

Dave Small

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David Small is a professional ice hockey coach, public speaker, and author. David has served in the scouting departments for the LA Kings and Columbus BlueJackets of the NHL. David was also the Director of Operations for Team Canada Juniors. David is the author of 3 books; Small Stories is David’s first published book and is currently being re-published in a special edition to support a Canadian charity The Kids Help Phone. The Hope Project is David’s second book that debuted at #1 on and shares his story about depression. The Wandering Leader is David’s third book about leadership and personal development and it is expected in spring 2013. David is an avid public speaker – you can catch him in action this spring in London England at the 2013 Advances in Leadership Conference. David currently resides in Italy where he is coaching hockey, writing, and being happy.


14 Responses to The Depressed Leader

  1. Tony says:

    Good for you, Dave. The starting point is what you discuss — that depression is much more common than people realise. All the best, Tony

  2. It seems like you’ve learned to manage your depression well. And focusing on the positive things in life that make us happy is good advice to spread for everyone, not jut those who are depressed.

    However, I don’t believe it’s possible, or healthy, to focus 100% only on the things that make us happy. That’s ignoring much of life, and much of ourselves. We all hurt from time to time. We all have challenges we must face. It’s important to face such challenges head on and accept them for what they are. Otherwise we put a limit on our growth and remain stuck in a fantasy world.

    Of course, I can’t speak on the subject of clinical depression, so take that bit of advice for what it is. But for most people, a good hard self-examination of their own difficulties is one of the best things they can do.

    You must first know yourself before you can change yourself.


  3. That’s great to read about your attitude towards depression. There are definitely leader types out there that give out that aura of “stability” and emotional strength but I don’t doubt some are struggling as well. It’s just that there are people who are much better at hiding it like you once did. Keep on powering on, Dave!

  4. Kevin Martin says:

    I too suffer from depression and I was suffering alone for years until I finally let it out. Just being open with others about my depression makes it feel much less. Bottling up one’s depression is the antithesis of getting better and overcoming it.

  5. Pamela Knox says:

    Thank you for sharing.  Depression conquering is to admit you are.  Learned that just recently myself.  Your new book sounds very interesting.  Will keep an eye out when it’s published.  

  6. Ani says:

    I am so happy that you managed to figure things out and appeared in a better place as result.

  7. humming bird says:

    The opposite of depression is expression,
    not happiness. Expression will clear the depressed feeling
    And will lead to greater happiness…..well done dave!

  8. Jorge Blanco says:

    A friend of mine was once diagnosed with clinical depression. When he was slipping into depression, I saw the signs, but I didn’t think it was that serious. When he was finally diagnosed, I couldn’t believe it. He wasn’t able to finish school because of that. He was a wreck, but he’s okay now. I just want to say that I’m proud of you David. You are strong and you showed us how great you are by overcoming this obstacle in your life. You truly are a great leader. On you talking about your condition, it’s always nice to hear from your side. It let’s us understand what you are going through, let’s us know when is the right time to respond and when to act the next time around someone shows the same signs.

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