Identifying depression in the workplace


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Depression is a common yet serious mental illness that is a result of lower levels of some neurotransmitters in the brain, that are important in mood, concentration, and attitude regulation. It is normal to feel a little down or sad once in a while, but if this impending feeling of worthlessness lasts for several days and has an impact on your daily life, you may have clinical depression.

Some common depression symptoms are intense sadness, disturbed sleep, fatigue, loss of energy and pleasure, thoughts of suicide, reduced concentration, and weight gain/loss. It is often brushed away as just “a phase” but if not treated, it can lead to severe consequences.

Depression is a very debilitating disease that can be quite hard to identify, especially because of its lurking character. You don’t see obvious physical symptoms, like soreness or headaches. The symptoms of depression can only be properly diagnosed by a qualified healthcare professional. However, there are usually some signs of depression that may be present in various situations which aid in identifying the condition.

It is especially difficult to recognize depression in the workplace because the person, being engrossed in their work, will be exhibiting no obvious signs. Often, the person him/herself won’t know and might be going about their day at work, feeling a little down. However, being a bystander, it is important to recognize any signs of depression that you may notice in your co-worker or employee. Here are some ways to spot depression at the workplace:

Increased Absenteeism/Sick Days

If you notice your co-worker/employee is taking more days off than usual, it could be a sign that they are depressed. The common reasons cited for the leaves may include colds, stomach ache, or other physical pains. Be mindful of uncharacteristic absenteeism and try to be available and supportive.

Incomplete Tasks

Do you see your employee/co-worker not performing all of their tasks to par or leaving a lot of unfinished business around? Are they not enthusiastic when they do their work? This may signify a lack of motivation and interest which could be symptoms of depression.

Changes in Social Behaviour

Is the employee/co-worker withdrawing him/herself from the others, not choosing to mingle or communicate with others? Sometimes, a person who is usually calm and collected may snap and get angry for no obvious reason. This could be due to depression. Try talking calmly to the person and offer help in a polite manner.

Increased Lethargy

Sometimes, depression can manifest as stress and fatigue. Do you notice bags under the eyes, excessive yawning, or a lack of expression and happiness? Loss of energy is another classic symptom of depression.

Many employees, even if they know, don’t want to reveal that they have depression, thinking that it may affect their job status. Some may not know who to approach for clinical therapy or fear lack of insurance and financial support. Here are some solutions you can offer as an employer:

  1. Try talking to any employees you see these symptoms in. Encourage a work culture where people feel comfortable and supported in difficult times.
  2. Hold one-on-one meetings with your employees and allow them to confide their feelings with you.
  3. If you have employees that are depressed, give them a break and regularly speak with them to show that you value their presence.
  4. Try sponsoring prepaid counselling sessions for any employees that are overwhelmed by stress. Counsellors/Psychologists will teach them strategies to cope with stress and this will benefit your company as well, as it will lead to better productivity from employees.

As a Co-Worker:

  1. Try talking to the person and offer help in a calm way.
  2. If they choose not to discuss their situation with you, respect their decision. Even if they don’t open up to you, they will benefit from knowing that they are surrounded by people who care.
  3. Avoid joking about mental health issues in an offensive manner.
  4. If your co-worker does confide in you, don’t share this information with others at work without their permission.

Depression can be treated with timely intervention. A little sensitivity on your part can encourage someone to seek help at the right time. If you know anyone who has been showing signs of depression, encourage them to seek counselling.

Contributed by  Ms.Krithi Nathan