Focusing on Depression in the Workplace

Employees experiencing a mental illness require a workplace that they feel supported, valued and understood. 

According to the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (SMHWB), 1 in 5 Australians (20%) aged 16-85 years experience a mental health illness in any one-year period. The most common mental illnesses are depressive disorders, anxiety, and substance use disorders with depression specifically accounting for 4.1% of the population. In addition to this, depression is the number one cause of non-fatal disability in Australia.

What is depression?

Depression, or otherwise, Major Depressive Disorder, is a mood disorder where a person experiences a clinically specified cluster of the below symptoms, almost every day for most of the time, for a period longer than 2 weeks, and that which starts to impact their capacity to complete one or many areas of their normal functioning. The symptoms of depression can be grouped in to the following:

Mood: tearfulness, low or flat mood, irritableness.

Behaviour: Low motivation, loss of interest and pleasure in previously enjoyed activities, difficulty concentrating or remembering things, withdrawal from social activities or occupational activities.

Thoughts: indecisiveness, feelings of worthlessness or excessive /inappropriate guilt, recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, ideation or intent.

Physical: fatigue, weight loss or gain, physical slowing of motor movements.

What causes depression?

There are many different factors which can lead to depression, but genetic and family psychiatric history, other pre-existing mental illnesses, childhood or previous trauma, medication, drugs and alcohol and medical conditions can all contribute to making an individual more vulnerable to depression or depressive symptomology.

Recent negative experiences or life stressors, negative personal reflections or unhelpful ways of thinking may all lead to experiencing depression.

What does depression look like in the workplace?

One of the key components to look for is any change in behaviour patters from what was usual for the employee.

Common signs might be changes in their usual productivity, forgetfulness, loss of interest and motivation, lack of attention given to appearance and presentation, reports of difficulty concentrating, withdrawal from social activities or self- isolation, difficulty with time or workload management, unexplained absences, increasing number of errors in work, and more obviously low, flat mood or tearfulness.

Though these signs may not be exclusive to depression and could be a result of any number of personal issues, if they do persist over an extended period of time, it should prompt non-judgemental checking in, and support from managing supervisor or a colleague.

Ways to help employees with depression

The first step of helping employees with depression, or with any mental illness, is to create a healthy work environment.

Creating mental health awareness in the workplace and educating staff is important to creating an environment where employees feel accepted, safe and comfortable to approach their colleagues or managers when experiencing any mental health concerns. Offering mental health and safety workshops, providing easily accessible self-help or other tips and resources and encouraging mental health discussions to take place are a few good examples of engaging in this process.

Support your employees in engaging in a balanced lifestyle. Encourage employees to bring healthy packed lunches, providing free fruit instead of chocolate or lollies, encourage employees to take their designated breaks, go on walks during lunchbreaks, and have lunch away from their desks.

If you have noticed an employee experience difficulty or changes in their behaviour, let them know you are available to chat, ask them if they need any support, and subsequently check-in with them at an appropriate time over the next few days. These discussions should be non-judgemental, and conducted with genuine interest in making the employee feel valued, remembered and important.

A referral or recommendation to seek out Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for confidential counselling or alternatively encouraging consultation with their medical provider or health professional are also helpful ways to start the process for the employee.

If you would like to have a discussion with GB about what action plans are available to improve the mental health and wellbeing of your workplace, contact us today.

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