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Learn to Identify Signs of Depression in the Workplace

As an employer or colleague, it is important to know when there is reason to be concerned for oneself or other, as major depression is one of the three main causes for employee workplace issues. Mental health researcher Valerie Hoffman shares insights on how to spot and help employees suffering from mental health issues.

Everyone has a bad day on occasion, and perhaps even several in a row. Those days during which we just don’t feel like ourselves and have a difficult time getting motivated are perfectly normal and happen to everyone from time to time. However, as an employer or colleague, it is important to know when there is reason to be concerned for oneself or other, as major depression is one of the three main causes for employee workplace issues. Even in 2018, there is a great deal of stigma surrounding issues of mental health, and as such, it may be difficult for a person to seek out the assistance they need. This is particularly unfortunate when coupled with the statistic that more than 16 million adults in the United States have suffered at least one major depressive episode. This means that if you work in a company of 100 employees, then at least 6 of them have dealt with, or are dealing with, depression.

What to Look Out For

There is a difference between a few bad days and something more serious. You may sense that one of your colleagues is having a problem, but how can you be certain? How can you tell the difference between something from which he or she will come back in due course and something that may need more attention? If a friend or colleague is exhibiting the following nearly every day for at least two weeks, he or she may be dealing with major depression:

  • Focusing on past events, things that maybe went wrong; a seeming inability to move on

  • Uncharacteristic anger or irritability, unexpected or unexplained mood swings

  • Overreaction to minor incidents

  • Loss of interest in people or things once enjoyed

  • Sudden weight gain or loss

  • Feelings of constant fatigue

    As an employer or colleague, some additional signs to look out for include:

  • Taking more time-off than usual

  • Inability to concentrate on even basic tasks

  • Chronic tardiness

  • Low energy

  • Forgetfulness

  • Not finishing projects or missing deadlines

Depression in the Workplace

Just as many employees are afraid to ask for help from an employer, out of fear that it may affect their job or standing within the company, many employers feel that this is a private matter regarding the employee and therefore, none of their business. However, as depression is considered a disability under the American with Disabilities Act, employers do need to be sensitive to the potential needs of an employee who may be suffering from a depressive episode or clinical depression.

As previously mentioned depression is shown to cause issues in the workplace, and contribute to more than 10% of health-related employee absences. In fact, depression is responsible for more than $20 billion in lost work days and decreased productivity.

How to Help a Depressed Employee

Fortunately, it is not all bad news, as 80% of people suffering from depression can be successfully treated with medication and therapy.

So, as an employer, you know what to look out for, but what action should you take? Chances are, the employee is not going to come to you, so here are some positive actions you can take:

  1. Let them know you care about them and their wellbeing, but that you notice a change.

  2. Be specific: “I notice you have taken several sick days, recently” or, “Your projects have been late the last two weeks”. Point out that you recognize that this isn’t typical of them.

  3. Provide them with information regarding your Employee Assistance Program. Assure them that anything they discuss with the counselor is kept confidential.

  4. Let them know that you want to help them get back on track.

  5. Be clear that they need to address their performance issues, but don’t make them feel threatened.

  6. Provide positive feedback when you do see an improvement in their job performance.

As an employer, it is certainly not your job to be your employees’ doctor or therapist, but you can let them know that you care about their wellbeing and provide them with access to resources, and create a better work environment for all as a result.

Riku Lindholm is the Chief Operating Officer at Meru Health.

Still have questions? Ask away.