World Health Day is April 7th this year, and the theme is “Depression: Let’s Talk”. So we thought we’d honor the day by talking about what employers can do to help support employees with depression. So, #LetsTalk.
The National Institutes of Health notes that depression costs the United States $36.6-51.5 billion each year in lost productivity. Mental Health America estimates that one in 20 workers has depression at any given time, so clearly it’s affecting the workplace, too.
Luckily, this World Health Day is a perfect opportunity to address some of the causes of depression in the office and to help and support any employees who are suffering. Here’s how:
Create a positive workplace.
We all know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and you can do a lot to help your workers avoid depression triggers. Redo the décor and layout to make the office a calmer, more organized space. Provide a quiet space for employees to rest and recharge. Create an office culture based on openness and respect, where employees feel valuable, important, and listened to. And cut out the emailing: talking directly with other people can make it easier to pick up on changes in mood and demeanor, making it easier for you to notice if someone has changed.
Make sure your employee assistance program includes mental health support. Then train management, so they learn how to recognize the signs of depression, as well as how to talk to and make recovery plans with employees suffering from depression.
Finally, make it clear that you are available if any of your workers need to talk about issues affecting their work.
Recognize the signs, and get talking.
Many employees simply ignore their symptoms because they fear being stigmatized or, worse, fired if they disclose their mental illness. But if you can get employees talking before they are at their lowest, their recovery will be faster and less disruptive to them and the rest of their team.
First, you need to know the signs of depression. These can include tiredness, crying spells, an unwillingness to interact with others, a lack of concentration, forgetfulness, low morale, and a lack of motivation. If you suspect an employee (or you) are suffering, find a neutral space where you can talk. Employees especially need reassurance that any disclosures to management will be confidential and that you are interested in creating a plan of recovery with them. That way they know they won’t be making their lives harder if they get help.
Create a flexible plan for recovery.
Once you’ve begun talking about depression, you can start to create a plan of action with your employee. Get recommendations from their doctor or mental health professional for reasonable adjustments you can make to their environment, their workload, and their schedule.
Give them time off so they can attend appointments and so they can recharge. Because depression can affect concentration and motivation, help them set goals, make lists, and track priorities. Appoint a trusted colleague or a mentor to help ensure their work isn’t being affected and to give them someone to talk to. Be more flexible about breaks and regulations about food and drink at work. Some medications give people cottonmouth, so they may need to have constant access to water, for example.
Once you’ve made a plan, check back with them regularly. That way, you can praise any progress that they have made or build in more support if they aren’t doing so well.
Depression isn’t just triggered by work, but work and money worries can contribute. But talking therapies have been shown to be amazingly effective, so the most important thing you can do is get your staff talking. Ask how they’re doing, and really listen.
And to learn more about the World Health Day campaign, how to talk to someone with depression or what you can do to support the day, check out the World Health Day website here.