Depression at work

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Health Assured team

28 February 2019

It's important for businesses to know how to support employees with depression.

Employers should make sure anyone with depression is cared for during work. And if their own work environment is the cause, you must do your best to tackle it.

If employers fail to support mental health in the workplace and an employee, they may end up making their depression worse. Not to mention, you could face disability discrimination claims and unlimited compensation fines.

In this guide, we’ll look at what depression is, whether it counts as a disability, and how to support employees suffering with the condition.

What is depression?

Depression is a mood disorder where a person feels persistent sadness and low moods. But, how do you know when you are depressed?

At its mildest form, it can make everything seem challenging or uninteresting. But at its worst, it can significantly affect a person's mental health and wellbeing.

Employees may feel depressed due to sudden changes in their personal lives. But their health conditions can get worse because of work concerns.

Employers must help any employee suffering with depression. Remember, you aren't expected to heal them - but you do have a legal duty to care and support them.

An employee taking a break during for their mental health

What are symptoms of depression?

There are many different types of symptoms associated with depression.

Some might experience a few of them at low levels; others may suffer from one overwhelming symptom.

Common symptoms of depression can be categorised into three sections - physical, psychological, and social. Let's look at these signs of depression:

Physical symptoms include:

  • Sleep problems.
  • Depleted energy.
  • Moving or speaking slower than normal.
  • Upset stomach.

Psychological symptoms include:

  • Persistent low mood or sadness.
  • Feeling overwhelmed.
  • Feelings of helplessness and anxiety.
  • Lack of motivation and disinterest.

Other symptoms

People with depression can suffer from other symptoms that come from both physical and mental symptoms. For example:

  • Problems with maintaining relationships.
  • Avoid social situations (either in their personal or work life).
  • Suffer from substance abuse (alcohol, drugs, or other stimulants).
  • Suffer from self-harm or suicidal thoughts.

an employee struggling to focus

Are there different types of depression?

Depression can be linked to all kinds of physical and mental health problems. And it can range from mild to the most severe forms.

Some of the most common types of depression include:

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a major depressive disorder linked to the changing of seasons.

People often suffer from SAD during the winter season. But you can experience it all year round. They may feel lethargic, sleepy during the day, and gain weight from overeating.

Luckily, there are many remedies that can help employees deal with SAD. For example, encourage outdoor time, brighter work places, and mental health support (like talking therapies).

Bipolar disorder (previously known as manic depression)

Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder that causes extreme mood changes.

People experience an extreme array of emotions or 'mood swings'. They could feel ecstatic or euphoric when they're happy. And then feel depressed and melancholy when they're sad.

People usually learn to live with their bipolar disorder. And control it through wellbeing management, like therapy or medication.

Prenatal and postnatal depression

Mothers can experience depression when they're about to give birth (prenatal). Or when they've already given birth to their new baby (postnatal).

Prenatal and postnatal depression is usually caused by ongoing worries of caring for a newborn baby. People can experience depression whether they're a new mother or not.

If an employee suffers from either form, you must do your best to make their work life as comfortable as possible. This can include offering therapy sessions, paid leave for antenatal appointments, or maybe even crèche service discounts.

Psychotic depression

Psychotic depression is a form of severe clinical depression.

People with psychotic depression may have suffered from traumatic events. Like divorce, serious illnesses, or the death of someone close to them. They could even suffer from symptoms like hallucinations and delusional thinking.

It's quite hard to understand how to help people with psychotic depression. The best thing employers can do is be aware of their condition, triggers, and coping techniques.

an employee experiencing low moods

What are the consequences of depression for employees?

Depression caused directly by a person's work life is more common than you think.

For example, employees may feel pressure because of difficult workloads or missed deadlines. Or they could face having to work with critical co-workers and customers.

When an employee suffers from depression at work, the consequences leads to:

  • Higher absent days.
  • Lost productivity and profit.
  • Lower morale and engagement.
  • Increased risk of stress, anxiety, and burnout.

Depression and absenteeism

When an employee takes time off for depression, it's hard to predict how many absent days they'll take. The sick leave rules would be the same, but it's hard to manage well.

They could take leave for a couple of days as mental health relief. Or they could be on sick leave for a couple of weeks. It's also hard for employees to keep up with their work duties and tasks.

In the end, the business suffers from higher absenteeism rates. This leads to lost work hours, output, and in the end, revenue. Absence can affect other employees, as it's highly likely that colleagues will have to pick up extra work.

Depression and work performance

When an employee is suffering with depression, it can seriously affect their everyday functionality. This is especially apparent in their work life.

Employees may struggle with poor work performance, concentration issues, and feeling lethargic. This can affect their career goals, progression, and development.

In the end, the business loses out on having a fully-functioning, skilled workforce. And it's hard to aid employees when they're no longer able to perform to their best level.

An employee feeling isolated from their colleagues

What is the law on depression at work?

In the UK, there is no specific law that covers depression at work. But employers still have legal responsibilities when it comes to the mental health condition.

Under the Equality Act 2010, disability is one of nine protected characteristics. This includes both physical and mental health illnesses.

Severe depression may class as a mental health disability if it fits the legal conditions. The condition must:

  • Have a ‘substantial adverse effect’ on a person's daily life.
  • Last for at least 12 months (or is expected to).
  • Have an influence on a person's ability to do normal activities.

In simple terms, major depression can legally count as a disability. For example, bipolar or menopausal depression can medically class as a serious mental health issue. But it might be harder to class mild depression conditions, like SAD, as a legal disability.

Employees with disabilities are entitled to reasonable adjustments. Ignoring or neglecting their legal rights could result in facing disability discrimination claims. If an employment tribunal upholds them, you could be forced to pay unlimited compensation.

an employee struggling to concentrate while at work

How to support an employee with depression

Depending upon the severity, managing depression and work can be a difficult subject to deal with.

As an employer, you need to ensure employees know they aren't defined by their depression. And that they shouldn't feel ashamed or suffer in silence.

Here’s how you can support employees with depression at work:

Have open communication about depression

Employees may suffer from depression for any number of reasons.

You may not know whether it comes from their personal or professional life. That's why it's important to have open communication about work depression.

Offer support through reading materials, open seminars, and wellbeing training. That way, employees have as much access to support as possible. Hold a meeting with anyone who wishes to discuss their condition in private.

Provide reasonable adjustments

As previously mentioned, severe depression can legally count as a disability (in certain circumstances).

It's hard for employees to perform well if they're suffering to meet their work duties. Employers have a legal right to consider reasonable adjustments.

These changes are made to the employee's job conditions or surroundings. They can include all sorts of changes, like:

  • Staggering their start/end times.
  • Offering flexible working.
  • Providing a longer lunch break.
  • Assigning a 'quiet' space away from others.
  • Allowing mental health sick leave.

You'll soon see what adjustments work for individual employees. Remember, you aren't expected to heal employees; just support them in the best way you can.

Deal the triggers

If employees have raised mental health concerns, you need to deal with these triggers.

Maybe you've recently introduced new work tasks or want them to meet deadlines more efficiently. Of course, not everyone will be able to deal with these in the same manner. So, if employees are affected by these triggers, reduce or eliminate them as much as possible.

If an employee's depression is triggered by non-work-related things, you should still support them. Ask them how you can help with early detection for spotting their depression triggers.

End stigma on mental health conditions

Employers must work to end the stigma that surrounds mental health conditions.

Sometimes, stigma comes from a place of naivety. Other times, it comes from ignorance or malice. Work depression can lead to bullying, harassment, and even victimisation.

The best way to eliminate mental health stigma is to focus on education. Provide awareness training to all employees - not just line-managers. That way, everyone benefits from learning about mental health conditions and helping you focus the signs of depression at work.

Referrals to a mental health professional

Another beneficial way to manage depression at work is through medical referrals.

Help from mental health professionals is especially useful for people seeking help.

These professionals can introduce all sorts of treatment. They could help employees use coping techniques specific for their complex condition, For example, deep breathing techniques or self-care treatment.

A mental health professional talking about work depression.

Is depression the same as stress and anxiety?

Feeling depressed is not the same as feeling stressed or anxious. But you often hear the three terms together.

Stress is a reaction people go through when they're faced with high pressures or difficult demands. People can suffer from stress due to personal issues or from a toxic work environment.

Anxiety is a little more difficult to define. People talk about feeling intense fear or worry when they're anxious. It's pretty normal to feel anxious from time to time. But in extreme cases, it can make everyday life very difficult.

People can experience work depression, stress, and anxiety all at once. Pressures from jobs can definitely be a contributing factor to the conditions. That's why it's important to promote mental wellbeing awareness throughout your business.

Can remote work lead to depression?

Yes, working remotely can lead to depression.

Employers have the same legal duty of care for staff working on-site or off-site. When employees work remotely, you still need to protect their health and wellbeing. By doing so, you'll be able to minimise mental health illnesses like depression.

Employers should have a daily routine of communication with remote workers. Video or phone-calls can significantly help reduce long hours of isolation. You also need to make sure they have a healthy working life balance.

a remote worker sitting at their desk

Get expert advice on depression with Health Assured

Every employer must do their best to help employees who are feeling depressed.

This isn't just a legal duty, it's a moral one, too. You'll be able to help them work with confidence and cope with unplanned situations.

On the flip-side, ignoring this could result in losing employees, paying compensation, and ruining your brand-name.

Health Assured provides advice on depression. Our team can help you safeguard employee wellbeing whilst simultaneously meeting your company needs. We also offer an employee assistance program (EAP) to help deal with work related depression.

We also provide a 24/7 helpline that’s open 365 days a year–helping you care for your staff all year round. Arrange a call back from an expert today on 0844 891 0352.

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