How to spot depression in employees

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Depression is a serious illness caused by changes in brain chemistry, which can make it hard for people to cope with everyday life. 1 in 6 workers deal with mental health issues such as depression, stress or anxiety (2001 Office National Statistics); as a manager or supervisor you need to be able to notice signs that might suggest one of your employees is suffering from depression as well as understanding how to approach the situation if that is the case.

Mental health plays a big role in working environments, with 40% of employers claiming to have seen an increase in mental health problems between 2012 and 2013 (Absence management survey, 2012). Those suffering from depression can have adverse effects on a company’s performance and if not managed correctly it can also affect the individual’s state of mind and mental wellbeing.

Symptoms of depression

Like physical health, mental health can differ from good to poor. However, if you notice one of your employees feeling constantly down that could be a tell-tale sign that they’re suffering from stress and possibly depression. Others symptoms to look out for include:

  • Increased amount of sick days
  • Loss of motivation
  • Changes in social behaviour – withdrawing from their friends and family
  • Incomplete tasks – struggling to concentrate and perform
  • Excessive tiredness and yawning
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Complaining of stomach or other bodily aches and pains
  • Increase or decrease in appetite

What to do if an employee is depressed

It can be difficult to know how to approach the situation once you’ve noticed one of your employees is suffering. The main thing to remember is that there is no need for an authority figure. You simply need to be caring, empathetic and non-judgemental about the situation, and they need to feel as though they can confide in you, so approach them as a friend, not a manager.

Helpful things to say:

  • You’re not alone – I’m here to listen
  • I might not understand what you’re going through but I want to help you get through it
  • Your life is important to those around you, your family, friends and work colleagues
  • Tell me what I can do to help you

Avoid saying:

  • Everyone struggles from time to time
  • Look at the positives
  • It’s all in your head
  • There’s always someone else worse off

Provide them with a reasonable solution such as talking to their GP or local mind drop-in and let them know that they have your support. Once you’ve spoken to your employee you then need to make sure you follow up the situation. Occasionally popping in to see how they’re doing will help your employee to feel supported and appreciated.

The biggest problem is that many people do not know or accept that they’re suffering from depression. Employees are often afraid that a mental illness will cause them to lose their jobs; ¼ of respondents to a MIND survey said that their job insecurity was ‘very’ or ‘quite’ stressful; this added stress only deepens this depression. You need to make sure you remain supportive throughout the experience so that you can ensure they have the tools to manage their mental health and feel supported at work.

To see how to cope with depression click here

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