Managing Depression in the Workplace: HR Guide

September 30, 20191:45 pm524 views

“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also harder to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken”.” – C.S. Lewis

Fact about depression
  • In the WHO South-East Asia region, more than 80 million people suffer from depression. (Searo data)
  • Depression ranks among the top three workplace problems for employee assistance professionals, following family crisis and stress. (MHA data)
  • Employees ages 18-24 showed the most severe decline in mental well-being. (PR Newswire data)
  • The most common victim of depression was found female. (MHA data)
  • Depression and anxiety have a significant economic impact; the estimated cost to the global economy is US$ 1 trillion / year in lost productivity. (WHO data)
  • Major depression is the leading cause of work absences and impaired work performance as well as short-term and long-term work disability. (ASPE study)
  • Depression is the most common psychiatric disorder in people who die by suicide, with half of all individuals in high-income countries die due to major depressive disorder. (Searo data)

See also: Workplace Bullying Causes & How to Prevent Them

Employees’ attitude towards depression

Given the increasing suicide rates seen globally, depression should be among the main concerns for employers to address. Unfortunately, employee depression is often difficult to recognise as those who suffer from this illness are unwilling to talk about their condition to the supervisor, let alone seek medical treatment. Common reason for not speaking up is that employees are unaware of their depression, or afraid of being seen as unprofessional. They are also concerned about the company’s confidentiality and worried that their insurance will not be adequate to cover such costs.

On the other hand, employees who are not suffering from depression said they are willing to refer to their coworkers if they are aware of the symptoms. 64 percent of MHA research respondents said they would refer an employee to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) health professional for such case.

Know the symptoms

HR leaders should be able to deliver while providing a proper explanation to employees and teams regarding the symptoms of clinical depression. The symptoms, nevertheless, can vary in severity and duration among different people.

In the workplace, depression has a corrosive effect on the individual’s ability to function in everyday tasks and performance. Symptoms such as sadness and lethargy are often associated with depression. Examples of cognitive symptoms are lack of concentration, indecisiveness and forgetfulness.

How HR should deal with depression 

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression is not a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.” – Stephen Fry

If one of your employees shows signs of depression, HR staff can help by being “a talking friend”. A candid conversation with them will help reduce the feeling of depression because they will know that someone cares about them. To initiate the talk, you can follow these simple plans.

  1. Choose an appropriate place – somewhere private, quiet, and outside the workplace is preferred. If they work remotely, consider visiting them in person or inviting them to a face-to-face meeting through a video call.
  2. Encourage the talk – don’t judge and directly ask why they are depressed. Instead, propose simple, open, and non-judgmental questions that trigger the respondents to talk the talk.
  3. Provide “listening” ear – show that you are genuinely invested in what employees are sharing.
  4. Ensure confidentiality – your employees need to be reassured of confidentiality, whether a company is willing to take care of such severe depression case or not.
  5. Develop an action plan to identify and eliminate the cause of depression and stress. Working on this matter with depressed employees is preferred so you know what is best for them.
How to eliminate depression

“What people never understand is that depression is not about the outside; it is about the inside.” – Jasmine Warga

In the end, to eliminate and prevent depression in your workspace, you need to understand that depression is not a physical injury that can be seen. Tackling depression in the workplace requires a holistic method focused on prevention, early recognition, and appropriate treatment, including pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions. Therefore, ensuring continuity of care and adequate follow-up for reducing relapses, such as a regular discussion on health and wellbeing, helps recovery and prevent depression from coming back.

Read also: Why & How HR Help Build Employees’ Self-Awareness