With one in four of us likely to experience a workplace mental health issue at some stage of our lives, it’s critical that as a business you’re equipped to deal with those challenges employees might face. Stress, anxiety and of course depression are the most common challenges employees might face during their careers but in todays article we wanted to focus solely on workplace depression. Bringing awareness to depression and it’s triggers, but equally how you can recognise that someone might be struggling and how to support them.
Our physical and emotional wellbeing needs to be tackled holistically and both need to be approached in their own manner. Today we have to juggle a magnitude of different tasks in both our social life and at work that it is not uncommon for it to affect our well being. This can lead to stress. Over a prolonged period this can onset depression. Although stress at work can lead to imbalanced mental health, stress at work can resurface pre-existing conditions that can be worsened by work. Taking a mental illness to work is draining and testing on not only the person suffering but those around them. When our mental health begins to affect our ability to function it’s important it is not ignored and we are given the right support emotionally and practically.
What is depression?
Depression can be described as a feeling of sadness that continues for a long time. It is not to be confused with a passing moment or a bad day, rather it is a health condition with real symptoms that should not be overlooked. Often when people are depressed they express feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and low self esteem. Depression can last for a short period of time or it can remain for a long period depending on the treatment in managing it.
How can depression be triggered?
The onset of depression can arise for a number of reasons. It can be triggered from past experiences, childhood trauma or from prolonged stress. Prolonged stress can also derive from impacted work circumstances. Typical triggers of workplace depression are usually a high workload, difficult colleagues, an unsupportive system and being over stretched from our usual remit. Depression should be treated equally and although work may not be the catalyst it shouldn’t be overlooked.
How can we recognise depression at work?
Depression doesn’t just affect our mental state but also our physical. It can affect our ability to sleep, some of us may be inclined to sleep more while others have difficulty sleeping. We feel fatigued, our appetite is affected, our weight can fluctuate and our immune system is weakened. From a mental standpoint we become less interested in pleasures we were once interested in. Depression can also affect our libido therefore can impact romantic relationships. The good news is the medical condition is treatable with the right help.
Spotting depression externally
Whilst depression in the workplace doesn’t necessarily stem from happenings within that environment, external circumstances can still affect our ability to work. Signs and symptoms of depression in the workplace can typically be spotted by loss of interest in things you were once interested in or lack of motivation day to day.
We may experience difficulty concentrating or decision making with colleagues and this can impede our productivity to get tasks completed. These are symptoms we may not notice within ourselves but our colleagues might. Other symptoms include thoughts of suicide and self harm. Again, these are symptoms we believe may not exist however an outsider may notice them before we do.
How to deal with depression in the workplace
As mental health is still very much stigmatised, many companies and employers struggle to approach the topic to strike a balance within the workplace. Communication doesn’t need to be intrusive or overbearing, but it does need to be apparent and clear across the hierarchy in any workplace. Such measures can be implemented by HR managers and Employee Engagement Officers.
1. Educate your staff
Start by integrating communication about workplace depression and what signs to look for. Communication can be on posters in common areas, or through internal newsletters. Both means of communication give employees the chance to look at it when they wish.
Though it is important when doing so the information is clear and it doesn’t go unnoticed. Line managers have expressed they often feel the most responsible when it comes to staff well being however have not been trained on how to do so. Start by trickling the information down from senior management and HR.
2. Build Awareness
As well as educating management of the signs of depression, inter department and team relationships can give helpful insights. Naturally, we have certain members of our teams that we gravitate more to. These kinds of bonds can make way for personal conversation.
Colleagues may notice signs within a teammate earlier or the individual suffering may feel more comfortable talking with another on their level of seniority as opposed to their manager. Building awareness within the organisation not only helps those who aren’t aware of symptoms of workplace depression but can also encourage people to speak up and not suffer in silence.
3. Implement Mental Health Plans
In the same manner in which managers offer one to ones and appraisals, having open group sessions can provide staff with insight, advice and guidance. In these talks offer information on who to contact if they need to.
The Samaritans are available 24 hours a day, it is a free service to use and is available to anyone. Here at Everymind at Work our app provides informative, relevant and timely content catered to not only the business but the individual’s needs too. The app is completely private and personal. You could set up such schemes that cover mental health support externally with access to therapists and professionals.
If you or another member notices someone else may be suffering with depression it is important to speak up where you see fit and to offer the person support. Workplace depression is a serious mental health issue that without relevant help and intervention in the early stages it can cause lasting effects.
It may be that they are consistently behind on work, aren’t delivering projects on time or are often arriving late to work. There is no need to try to diagnose or feed the individual with words that might frighten them or they may not understand but raise the concerns you have. Be careful how you approach them, open up an informal chat to help coax them into opening up.
We’re advocates of the principle to “Ask Twice”. Often when we approach someone and ask them “how they’re feeling” a natural reaction is to respond “I’m fine”. But asking twice allows us to reposition the question, and give the person we’re looking to support another opportunity to share how they’re feeling. Here’s an example:
“How are you?”
“I’m fine thanks!”
“It’s just that I’ve noticed you’ve been coming in to work late recently, and I’m just checking in to make sure everything is ok?”
The second question shows compassion, it shows that you’re willing to listen and also highlights that you care. The environment in which you ask the question is important too, making them feel safe and potentially asking them away from others will help too.
5. Build a Comfortable Working Environment
In moments of stress it is known that being surrounded by nature helps elevate symptoms and calm the mind. However that may not be possible for all of us. If your office is in the middle of a busy city with limited access to green spaces, you can bring the green space to you.
Surround the office with plants, inspiring artwork and soothing surroundings. It’s also known pets can help, some offices allow staff to bring dogs to work. Their innocent and playful nature can be a real mood booster. If having dogs in the office regularly may be more a distraction than a mood lifter, you could collaborate with companies such as Paws in Work who bring puppies to your workspace for the day.
6. Be Proactive
If you have been made aware a member of your team is suffering with depression you need to be able to act in a timely manner, if necessary. If the person has been suffering with depression for an extended period or stems from past trauma this can severely impact their person’s life and can put their life in danger. Don’t take comments or jokes of suicide lightly from someone who is suffering with depression as this could be an indicator you need to act.
We spend a lot of our time at work, our colleagues may see sides of us our family, spouse or housemates rarely see, in particular in stressful moments of high pressure. It’s important that people who suffer with depression want to feel better, and don’t volunteer to suffer. Like anything in life, the beginning is the hardest part, so by offering support and the right resources, it might be the push they need to get the help they need.
Many organisations (and society in general) still adopt a reactive approach to depression and mental health. Waiting until things get worse before seeking support. But transitioning to a proactive approach comes with a lot of benefits, and it’s a big focus of the work we do at Everymind at Work.
“You wouldn’t wait for every bone to break in your body before you treated a broken arm, so why do we treat mental health this way?”
7. Be accommodating
With depression, while medication and therapies are generally coherent, individually, our bodies react and respond differently. What works for someone may not work for someone else, it’s no use saying what worked for a friend will work for them. So it is vital whoever is offering help that they listen. Allow the individual to tell you what it is they need in order for them to feel better.
It might be that taking a longer lunch break to workout, or to arrive 30 minutes later in the morning to avoid the morning commute elevates unwanted stress. Companies can offer remote working equipment, this allows employees the ability to log on at home when they are struggling to face the world. Once they feel ready, they can come in – it is important for not only the individual but for productivity that teammates are present when physically in the office. Suffering with depression doesn’t have a quick fix and trying to put on a brave face often makes the situation worse.
Mental health is individual, and again we stand by the approach of shifting away from a one size fits all approach. It seems like more time and resources required at first, but in the long run, it saves money, resources, time and more importantly, lives.
When suffering with depression the smallest of tasks can seem so incredibly daunting and oftentimes everyday normalities to others can feel like climbing a mountain for some. But that is ok. There is no rush on the road to recovery and the support system in the workplace should be there to allow for the time and space employees need if they have it.
Don’t overlook something you think could threaten someone’s life or leave them in a vulnerable position. When someone is suffering inside it can take a while for them to recognise or notice the situation, that it becomes sticky. It is imperative to act calmly, efficiently and with compassion.
At Everymind at Work, we’re on a mission to normalise mental health conversations in the workplace and hopefully this article has helped.