Depression at work

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Health Assured team

28 February 2019

Depression at work

The mental health charity Mind state that one in six British workers get affected by mental health problems like depression, stress or anxiety each year. Deloitte found that this costs employers up to £45 billion per year. Depression is a serious mental health issue that needs addressing in the workplace.

As an employer, you have a duty of care to your staff. You must lookout for signs of depression at work and know-how to reach out to those affected. This article will provide an overview of depression and the signs to look out for. We’ll also consider depression and work absence and depression work rights in the UK.


An overview of depression

Depression is not simply feeling unhappy or fed up for a few days - a basic definition would be “feeling down persistently for weeks or months”. At its mildest, it makes everything more challenging to do and seem less worthwhile.

In its most severe form, it can make a person feel suicidal, or give up the will to live. As well as mild, moderate and severe depression, there are specific types, including Seasonal Affective Disorder and Dysthymia (chronic depression).

Depression and anxiety are often experienced together. Depression can also be a symptom of other mental health problems, such as bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder. People with severe depression can also experience some psychotic symptoms, for example, delusions and hallucinations.

Depression can affect anyone, regardless of gender or age. The causes of depression vary—factors can include life events, child experiences, genetics, stress and lack of sleep.

Depression and work can sometimes go hand-in-hand. Depression in the workplace is often triggered by workplace stresses that can cause the illness or make it seem worse. Long hours, dealing with difficult people or situations, and unreasonable targets could lead to depression caused by work.


What are the signs of depression?

The signs of work-related depression—or depression in general—vary from person to person. Sometimes, a person can just be suffering from a low mood. But if you spot a colleague who seems to suffer from any of the following 10 signs of depression, you should make sure to keep an eye on them:

  • Persistent anxiety, or a constant sadness—more than just feeling low, this could be affecting someone’s ability to complete work on time.
  • Thoughts of hopelessness—the idea that nothing can improve, and this pessimism will last forever.
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities—the inability to find joy in things that previously kept them occupied.
  • Weight changes—sudden and significant gains or losses in weight.
  • Changes in sleep—either not getting enough, or far too much.
  • Increased irritability—a shorter fuse than usual, and angry reactions.
  • Reckless behaviour—increased alcohol use or dangerous activity.
  • Concentration problems—no focus, an inability to make decisions or remember tasks.
  • Suicidal ideation—thoughts of death, or actual suicide attempts.
  • Lethargy—a lack of energy or enthusiasm.

Other symptoms include: Increased amount of sick or absent days, excessive forgetfulness, tiredness and excessive yawning, withdrawal from colleagues and work social events and more.

Not everyone displays signs of anxiety and depression the same way, so be careful not to jump to false conclusions.


What are the types of depression?

Diagnoses of depression fall into three categories—mild, moderate and severe. These are an indicator of how badly it impacts your life, and affect the treatment you’ll be offered.

You can improve depression awareness by learning more about the specific types of depression below:

  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)—occurs mostly during the winter months when it’s darker and colder.
  • Dysthymia—also known as chronic depression, is a persistent, continuous disorder lasting two years or more.
  • Prenatal depression—occurs during pregnancy and is also known as antenatal depression.
  • Postnatal depression (PND)—occurs in the weeks and months after birth and can affect men and women.

Depression and work absence

Employees diagnosed by the doctor can get signed off work with depression. The average time off work with depression varies from person to person. Depression leave from work follows the same rules as other kinds of sick leave. Working life can be difficult for employees with depression. Their ability to work is often greatly affected. You must allow employees time to recover from depression. Return to work interviews can also help to support an employee returning from mental health leave.

Depression and performance

Depression and going to work can sometimes clash. There is often a link between depression and poor work performance. Symptoms we mentioned earlier like low moods, concentration problems and a lack of energy can cause work performance to decline. If this is the case, speak to the employee and see what adjustments you could make. As an employer, you have a duty of care to look after your workers.

Depression and work rights UK

The Equality Act (2010) protects employees from discrimination. There isn’t a specific depression protected characteristic under the Equality Act. But depression classifies as a disability under the act if all the below apply:

  • It lasts or will last at least 12 months.
  • It negatively impacts an employee’s life at work.
  • It impacts an employee's ability to carry out everyday activities.

Employers must not allow depression discrimination at work, or mental health discrimination of any kind. You must also make any reasonable adjustments that may help.

How to support an employee suffering depression

As we say, everyone suffers differently. But here are a few quick ways to offer support and guidance to someone with depression:

  • Offer support—demonstrating real care and concern will help employees handle their illness.

  • Be flexible— After an employee’s depression has been identified, there may be flexibility required to help and support them. For example, a change of workspace, a change to start/finish times or adjusting their responsibilities.

  • Make a plan—sit down with your employee and ask what would help them continue easily in their role. You’ll learn about their concerns, and reduce the worry.

  • Create an open environment—if you’re clear that your employees can approach you with any concerns, that’s one less cause of anxiety. Depression can be a difficult subject to bring up. Let people know that you understand.

  • Provide constructive feedback—reward positive times and achievements with a simple congratulation. Your employee will appreciate the thought.

  • Respect their confidentiality - It is important to keep any suspicions or knowledge you have about an employee’s mental health confidential, and this includes those with depression. Talking to other colleagues would not only make the employee lose trust in you, but it can also negatively impact their mental health. If you need someone to talk to about your concerns, speak to the HR department.

  • Encourage them to talk. Whether you suspect an employee has depression or they have confided in you, encourage them to talk about it. This will lead to an understanding between you and the employee, as well as help with figuring out the steps to take to help and support them.


Get help with depression at work with Health Assured 

Our professional counsellors can support your employees with depression. We provide a 24/7 employee helpline that is open 365 days a year. With guidance and support employees can quickly get back on the road to recovery. 

We can also guide managers and other staff members who may not feel equipped to take on these sensitive issues. 

Arrange a call back from a workplace wellbeing expert today on 0844 891 0352 for help combating depression at work.

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