Jan Wong's Out of the Blue

First aired on The Sunday Edition (06/05/12)

jan-wong-175.jpgJournalist and author Jan Wong has had a thick skin throughout her career. After all, when you've worked as a foreign correspondent, covered the Tiananmen Square Massacre and written a popular no-holds-barred celebrity interview column, you expect to get a little heat from time to time.

But nothing in Wong's life had prepared her for the backlash she received after writing a column following the fatal shooting at Montreal's Dawson College in September 2006. In the article, she suggested that the perpetrator, Kimveer Gill, and other previous school shooters in Quebec, were "mentally disturbed individuals" perhaps alienated by the province's linguistic policies.

"I remember that I started getting emails and I called them 'hate mail' because they were really terrible," Wong told The Sunday Edition's Michael Enright during a recent interview. "There were death threats, excrement was sent to the Globe, and somebody sent my books and they were sawn in half with a power saw. And I was just shocked at the violence that implied."

Facing pressure from politicians and citizens alike demanding an apology from Wong or her dismissal, the Globe went into damage-control mode and opened up its editorial pages to include voices disagreeing with the column. Wong was fine with that, it was free speech after all, but she didn't feel supported by the newspaper.

The stress of the event wore on her, and she sunk into a clinical depression. To exacerbate matters, she struggled with the Globe and its insurer over the processing of her sick leave benefits. She was eventually fired.

out-of-the-blue-cover.jpgOver the past few years, Wong has battled back with the help of family and friends. She's written a new book about her experiences titled Out of the Blue: A Memoir of Workplace Depression, Recovery, Redemption and, Yes, Happiness. But while the book is a personal story, it's also about the widespread issue of workplace depression. To people suffering from the illness, she wants to provide an optimistic pep talk.

"The big life lessons are that you can have clinical depression and you can get over it," she told CBC's Jennifer Clibbon in a Q&A. "It's completely treatable. It has an end. Second life lesson: you'll probably be stronger when you come out of it than you were before. The third life lesson is you'll probably be happier because you leave it behind and you will find a new life. The fourth lesson: that family matters. Everything else is extra."

But another purpose of the book is to draw attention to societal attitudes about depression and how companies and workplaces ought to support employees affected by it.

"For people who don't have that economic independence, it's crushing," Wong said. "That's why this book is so important. I want employers and employees and HR professionals to understand. For companies, you're just going to have to spend more money if you fight it. It's going to end up costing you more. Understand that when your employees are sick, they are sick."