How to spot and manage depression in the workplace

  • 06 Mar 2020
  • Leadership in Business
How to spot and manage depression in the workplace Image

A staggering 70 million workdays are lost due to mental health problems in the UK, according to research from mental health UK. The same study states that it costs employers roughly £2.4 billion a year in sick leave. But away from the financial cost to businesses, depression is an insidious affliction, robbing its victims of their confidence, happiness and general well-being. And usually, because of the stigma associated with mental health issues, those that suffer tend to try to hide their issues without seeking the help and support they need.

In this article, we’ll teach you to tell-tale signs of depression so you can direct the person who’s affected to get the appropriate help, as well as teach you tips on how to handle conversations around depression and anxiety.

What are signs of depression?

Depression has a variety of symptoms, ranging from a low mood all the way to feeling completely hopeless and entertaining suicidal thoughts.

Mental Health UK lists these as common indicators of depression:

  • Tiredness and loss of energy
  • Sadness that doesn’t go away
  • Loss of self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Not being able to enjoy things that are usually pleasurable or interesting
  • Feeling anxious all the time
  • Avoiding other people, sometimes even your close friends
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Sleeping problems – difficulties in getting off to sleep or waking up much earlier than usual
  • Very strong feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Finding it hard to function at work/college/school
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of sex drive and/or sexual problems
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Thinking about suicide and death
  • Self-harm.

What does depression do to the body?

Depression can manifest itself outside of your mood and simply feeling sad. Indeed, outside of emotional anguish; depression can affect your body in lots of different ways. This diagram shows you how:

How can depression affect the workplace?

Depression can cost businesses 12.8 million working days, according to data from the Health and Safety Executive. In addition, the study goes on to claim that 44% of absences in the workplace is down to depression and anxiety.

Besides the obvious financial impact of absences in the workplace, depression can also reduce employee satisfaction and happiness in the workplace – especially if the depression is brought about because of work-related stress.

Why is it so hard to spot depression at work?

Lots of people battling depression generally tend to hide it from their colleagues. This is because of the stigma surrounding mental health, whereby those suffering feel they can’t share details of their depression for fear of being judged or treated differently, or even, fear of losing their job.

In addition, some people with depression might be suffering from long-term anxiety, which triggers the human fight or flight response. As such, those with mental health issues might appear to be rash, make poor decisions, have poor communication and miss key deadlines. Some managers and employees interpret these behaviors as the depression-afflicted employee seeming like they don’t care about their work or the business in general.

In most cases, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Many people suffering from depression are conscientious people that care deeply about their jobs.

Can work make depression worse?

For some people, work can make depression worse, or even could be the source of their depression in the first place. Typical work-related issues that amplify mental health issues include:

  • Long hours
  • Unattainable targets
  • Continuously dealing with difficult customers at work
  • Being ostracized or bullied in the workplace
  • Constantly encountering difficult and stressful situations

What can you do?

It’s a misconception that those with a mental health issue can’t succeed at their job. With the right treatment and support, people with depression and anxiety can be productive and flourish in their roles.

Mind, a leading mental health charity says that 30% of workers feel they can’t talk openly with their line manager if they were feeling stressed. In addition, about 14% of workers had resigned because of workplace stress, with a further 42% said they thought about quitting their job.

As a line manager, a co-worker and friend, commit to ending this culture of not being able to talk about mental health issues at work and encourage a culture of sharing, empathy and understanding.

There’s plenty of ways to do this and we’ve suggested a few below:

#1 – Encourage people at your organisation to talk

Helping other people talk about their mental health and feelings can help those struggling when they’re feeling troubled. It can be tricky to talk about how you feel at work, for fear of being judged or being made to feel inferior – but in reality – all you’re doing is taking charge of your mental wellbeing and trying to keep yourself healthy.

Encourage your co-workers and colleagues to talk more about their mental health. If you’re a line manager, ensure in your one-to-one meetings with your staff that if they want to, they can discuss any problems they may have on their mind. Be supportive, non-judgmental and act as an honest broker if your employee complains about a co-worker.

Be a trendsetter at work and demonstrate to your colleagues or employees that talking about anxiety and depression is a normal thing to do. Your actions might encourage others to do the same.

#2 – Make sure the conversations happen at the right time and place

You shouldn’t force conversations about mental health with your co-workers, instead, encourage them to talk about at a time and place that’s best for them. Book a slot in your diary when you have 15 minutes of time spare, to dedicate just to that person – whether you’re the one talking about your issues or listening to someone else.

It’s important that when you do talk to someone about depression or anxiety, whether it’s your issues or theirs, you dedicate that time solely to that other person, without your phone, laptop or other distractions.

#3 – Practice active listening

Listening is a key part of any conversation, and when it’s talking about someone else’s health and wellbeing, you should take the time to listen carefully.

Engage in active listening, a range of techniques to clearly communicate to the person you’re speaking to that you’re listening to them.

Maintain eye contact and keep your body language open – which means having open arms and face them directly. Acknowledge what the other person is saying by nodding and making appropriate gestures at the right time and repeat what they say to ensure you understand how they might feel.

Ask clear and direct questions, taking care to only probe for extra details if you feel the person, you’re speaking to is prepared to surrender that information.

When you’re finished talking, go over what you’ve discussed and agree what the next steps are. If they need external help, have a few charities or helpline numbers to hand to pass onto them immediately afterwards.

#4 – Manage how you feel

Ensure that you keep your feelings in check when you’re talking to someone about their mental health – and don’t be judgmental. You want to reassure the person you’re talking to that they’re OK to have a conversation with you and you’ll respect them and what they have to say.

At this stage, it might be tempting to start suggesting solutions to potential problems, but instead, refrain and ask the person what they’d like to happen instead. They might look to you for ideas, but they might just want to vent and open up.

Changing perceptions about depression

As we start a new year and new decade, make it your goal to increase awareness of conversations around mental health issues. It’s only by adopting a proactive approach and fostering a culture of openness and non-judgmental behavior that we’ll conquer the issues depression and anxiety bring to our workplaces.

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