Depression at work

Photo by Alex E. Proimos via Flickr, under Creative Commons Licence

Last week (April 22-28) was Depression Awareness Week, which helped raise the profile of depression through events held across the UK. A person who is depressed will experience a combination of a wide range of possible symptoms continuously over a period of weeks or months, including:

  • low mood and sadness;
  • low self-esteem;
  • feeling irritable, tearful, anxious or worried;
  • finding it difficult making decisions;
  • decreased interest in things that a person would normally find stimulating.

Depression is more widespread than many people may imagine (it is estimated that approximately 10% of the population of the UK will experience depression at some point in their working lives) and the costs of depression and associated sickness absence are a major drain on the UK economy.

Depression in the workplace, if not addressed, can have a widespread negative influence on an organisation. A person suffering from depression is likely to become less productive and take time off work due to sickness. In addition, a sufferer’s low mood can negatively affect morale amongst the person’s colleagues/team members thus lowering productivity even further.

Supporting an employee who appears to be suffering from depression is not an easy task for a manager/employer, but it is a very important one. Talking openly and sensitively with the employee to ascertain the reasons for their unhappiness (i.e. are the employee’s issues work related or personal?) would be the first stage. If it transpires that the person is experiencing problems at work then managers/employers should address the issues identified by the employee (e.g. anxiety over workloads, problematic relationships with colleagues, etc.).

Employers could discuss modifications to the employee’s role/hours, if this is beneficial, and should encourage individuals to talk to their GP to find out what support is available to them. The most important thing from an employer’s perspective is to remain approachable and receptive so that an employee suffering from depression feels supported and confident about opening up about their problems. For more guidance, call the free Health for Work Adviceline on 0800 0 77 88 44.

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