After hiding his anxiety disorder for decades, Daryl Tol, CEO of AdventHealth's Central Florida division, during a public address on Wednesday, opened up about his past and current struggles with mental health.
The first panic attack
Tol at the Mental Health Association (MHA) of Central Florida's annual meeting said he first started to experience panic attacks during his freshman year of college. Tol, who is now 45, said it felt "like the room was spinning." At one point he was convinced he was dying.
Tol's girlfriend at the time, who's now his wife, witnessed one of his attacks and encouraged him to seek treatment. Tol got help, and his condition improved through counseling and medication, but he still told no one else about his disorder—and then 10 years later, his symptoms resurfaced.
"I knew I needed to see a doctor and I might need some medication again," Tol said, but he'd also just "got a new job" as a leader of a health system. Worried that the disorder would ruin his career, Tol decided that "no one could know about it."
To keep his disorder a secret, Tol went out of town to find a doctor who had "no affiliation with" his health system. "I had to pay privately because there's no way that was going into my health insurance [records]," he said.
But after a while, "The hiding felt terrible," Tol said. "[I]t felt like I wasn't being ... my real self."
Tol opens up
Finally, one day in a meeting with his executive team, Tol opened up about his struggles with panic attacks and anxiety, he recalled. "I recognized that this dragon that attacked me was also something that I could ride, and it was part of myself and something I could be proud of as part of my total package. My struggles and successes in life come in a full package."
Tol found that after he was transparent about his mental health condition, other executives started opening up about their own struggles.
"We started to have a real relationship—these are high-performing people with struggles. And that was a turning point for me," he said.
MHA CEO Candy Crawford said Tol is the first executive at his level to share about his mental health status and said she hoped his story would encourage other executives to come forward with their own experiences. "Finally, we have someone—the powerhouse of AdventHealth—who is willing to be open," Crawford said of Tol (Santich, Orlando Sentinel, 11/13; Rappleye, Becker's Hospital Review, 11/14).