Depression involves negative feelings that affect a person’s self-worth, which directly affects their thoughts, actions, and ability to function. It is more than merely feeling sad one day—it often takes place over weeks and months and can lead to symptoms such as fatigue and problems with concentration. Workplace depression is considered an occupational disease, so it’s important to be able to recognize it and have strategies to address it.

The Effects of Depression in the Workplace

Depression affects an employee’s ability to handle their responsibilities, while also limiting their role within a team environment. It can therefore have an impact on their colleagues and the wider organization as well. Potential effects include:

  • Presenteeism: Some employees will show up to work, but their minds will be elsewhere due to anxiety and stress. As a result, they may just go through the motions, completing the bare minimum of work.
  • Absenteeism: Depression can manifest itself through social anxiety and physical symptoms such as fatigue, making those who suffer from it unable to leave their home. 
  • Decreased production: As employees struggle with their illness, they may be unable to complete their tasks, leading to a decline in productivity. 

When an individual is unable to fully function, colleagues may find they have to cover for them or take on extra responsibilities. This can cause resentment and a detrimental effect on team cohesion. Furthermore, there is a financial impact. Mental Health America reports that 3% of all short-term disability days are due to depression, and the associated absenteeism and decreased production cost more than $51 billion each year. 

 Signs of Depression in the Workplace

Some of the warning signs that a colleague might be suffering from depression include:

  • Increased anxiety and difficulty coping with stressful experiences
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Fatigue
  • Procrastination and loss of interest in work
  • Worsening performance
  • Difficulty making decisions 
  • Emotional outbursts, such as crying spells 
  • Being prone to irritability and anger
  • Withdrawing from social situations

 Causes of Depression in the Workplace 

There are several work-related factors that can contribute to depression:

  • A toxic work environment: A worker may feel unsafe in their workplace if they’re the subject of office gossip or are experiencing bullying. If left unchecked, this can lead to feelings of decreased self-worth.
  • An unreasonable workload: Workers who have too many tasks assigned to them may feel hopeless and unable to meet their manager’s expectations.
  • Not being recognized: When their manager fails to recognize their achievements, workers may ‌feel demoralized and that their contributions don’t matter.
  • Inequality in the workplace: Research indicates that employees are more likely to suffer from depression when they feel ‌that their workplace has low levels of justice. If an employee feels they are being subjected to bias or their voice isn’t being heard by their supervisors, frustration can eventually lead to depression. 

Strategies for Helping Those Suffering From Depression in the Workplace

Provide support 

The best way to provide support for those suffering from depression is to have them speak with a trained mental health professional. Some businesses have in-house counselors, and the accessibility of these services can help employees overcome any concerns about the time commitment or the cost of therapy. 

When supporting those suffering from depression, look for ways to minimize their stress. For example, you could provide flexibility with deadlines or create opportunities to work from home. This can lead to a healthier work-life balance.

Increase awareness of the signs

Mental Health America reports that 64% of managers would be willing to refer an employee to a mental health professional. However, many lack adequate knowledge to identify when  an employee is at risk of depression. Consider training your team leaders and employees to be vigilant in the early recognition of the signs in order to avoid anyone slipping through the cracks. 

Create a non-discriminatory workplace

In addition to raising awareness of the signs of depression, you should avoid negative responses or anything that may lead to stigmatizing your employees. According to a report by the McKinsey Group, feelings of shame can prevent people from reaching out and can even make their depression worse. It’s important, therefore, to show compassion and empathy, as you would for those suffering from any other disease.

Employees may also be reluctant to seek help for their depression if they fear discrimination from their managers, such as being excluded from promotions or working with high-ranking clients. Consider carefully whether your company’s culture provides a respectful and inclusive environment in which employees can be open about their mental health needs. 

Conclusion

Many people who suffer from depression suffer alone, but their actions will show that they are not coping. Employers should be alert to the signs, and respond with compassion and empathy to those who are struggling with the illness. It’s also important to create a more inclusive environment to talk about mental health issues, and to be flexible in easing the stress of those who are depressed. There may be a steep cost if you do not address workplace depression in your company, but early intervention can help prevent absenteeism and loss of productivity. 

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