Managing depression at work

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Health Assured team

20 January 2020

During times of worry, we all have bouts of depression or anxiety, and this is normal. However, when these feelings are long-lasting or arise without cause, they can become a problem.

According to a study by the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

This is because depression at work can affect anyone (a third of all employees). Coupled with this, is the stigma attached to mental health conditions, meaning many suffer in silence.

This makes it important to understand how you should manage depression in the workplace.

Employees suffering from poor wellbeing are less productive and are absent more often, leading to fewer profits for you. So you need to be looking out for your employee wellbeing.

This piece explores the options available for you to manage depression at work. In it, we’ll discover the steps you can take to protect an employee coping with depression at work and help them overcome it.

What is work-related depression?

Depression is not simply feeling unhappy or fed up for a few days – it is feeling down persistently for weeks or months. At its mildest, it makes everything seem more challenging and 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).

It’s not that depression is caused by work, but the environment may worsen symptoms for people who already live with depression.

Depression in the workplace can be caused by. For example:

  • The fear of redundancy
  • Working long hours
  • Dealing with difficult people or situations
  • Unreasonable targets

Working with depression

It should come as no surprise there’s a direct link between depression and poor work performance.

The impacts of depression on your workforce are evident. From a decline in productivity to increases in absences, and everything in-between. It can have various effects on the output of your business—including the bottom line.

Someone who is depressed can also affect their peers. Without context, they may see their behaviour as rude, which lowers morale and productivity.

There are also issues with discrimination that may come into play, which can complicate things further.

Depression and employment law

The Equality Act 2010 outlines legislation on discrimination. As depression meets the criteria as a disability in certain situations, you are at risk of mental health discrimination.

The act outlines what classes as a disability, It says someone is disabled if:

  • They have a physical or mental impairment
  • That impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities

Long term means something that effects someone or is likely to affect them for at least a year. This means without any medication, so those on antidepressants will still count even if that medication helps symptoms.

Impairments are also considered long term if the effects are likely to come and go. These are known as ‘fluctuating’ or ‘recurring’ effects. This will likely be the case with depression, as many have depressive episodes.

Employers that don’t abide by the legislation are likely to be taken to an employment tribunal for claims of disability discrimination. So take this into account when managing depression at work.

Signs of depression in employees

The signs of depression at work are similar to general depressive symptoms. That said, some may look more specific to a workplace setting.

This includes changes in their behaviour, work output, eating habits, etc.

Some of the more common signs of work depression include:

  • Low energy and lack of motivation to do things (which can sometimes manifest as boredom in tasks).
  • Persistent/ prolonged feelings of sadness or low mood.
  • Loss of interest in tasks at work (especially duties that were previously found interesting and fulfilling).
  • Inability to concentrate or pay attention to work tasks.
  • Trouble retaining or remembering things, especially new information.
  • Making excessive errors in daily work tasks.
  • An increase or decrease in weight or appetite.
  • Physical complaints like headaches, fatigue, and upset stomach.
  • Increased absences or coming late and leaving early.
  • Irritability, increased anger, and poor frustration tolerance.
  • Crying spells or tearfulness at work (with or without any apparent triggers).
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much (like taking naps during regular work hours).
  • Self-medication with alcohol or substances.

Spotting these symptoms and managing loneliness at work, keeping a keen eye on developing mental health issues, and taking steps to reduce stress in your people are vital steps.

Dealing with depression and anxiety at work

Once you recognise the symptoms, we can now talk about how to handle depression at work.

There are many options available to support your staff when they’re experiencing mental distress.

Here are some accommodations for depression at work you can make.

Reasonable adjustments

These are a legal requirement once you’re aware of an employee’s disability. Although you should endeavour to take steps to support employees whether their ailment is diagnosed or not.

Making adjustments for physical impairments are understandably complicated and costly. However, it’s much more simple and cost-effective for mental health.

There are many options you can consider including:

  • Changes to working times
  • Allowing more frequent breaks
  • Working from home
  • Extra training or mentoring
  • Changes to responsibilities or workspace, etc.

Company culture

The first thing you can do is to encourage a company culture that supports open communication. This is important as it sends a clear message to employees you care about their mental health.

This is because there is still a great stigma associated with ill mental health. Both social and self-stigma. So making it easier to come out with these issues means you’ll avoid fewer absences.

To start, you can show your commitment to staff members by creating a clear mental health strategy and other policies that ensure employees experiencing mental health problems can get the support they need.

You should also talk openly about your experiences with mental health issues as it encourages employees to join in the conversation.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA)

When a staff member is physically injured at work, they can approach a dedicated first aider for support. Ideally, the same should be applied when an employee is dealing with depression at work.

MHFA is a proactive approach for dealing with mental health problems in the workplace. It trains your staff on how to combat depression at work, identify the symptoms of ill mental health and offer the appropriate support.

Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)

With the continued increase of reported cases of ill mental health, the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) urges organisations to use their EAPs more effectively.

The programme offer’s services intended to help employees deal with personal problems that might affect their wellbeing and work performance.

Workplace counselling

With Health Assured’s EAP service, your employee will have 24/7 access to our counselling, legal and information support, advice for critical incidents and an online portal. With more literature on managing their physical, mental and financial wellbeing.

Here they can access a variety of counselling and therapy techniques. Our counsellors will be able to offer treatment for depression through:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behaviour therapy.
  • Psychodynamic Therapy.
  • Interpersonal Therapy.


Sometimes all we need is for someone to listen to us.

While people can find it difficult to talk about their mental health, in a company culture where talking about it is normalised, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Ask non-judgmental questions and listen to what the employee has to say. They may know how to get through depression at work but feel they can’t say or aren’t listened to.

Allow them to explain in their own words how they’re feeling. Listen to why they feel that way, what they think triggered that feeling, how they think it’s affecting their life (work or personal) and how you can support them.

Time off for depression

When an employee feels their condition is worsening, they might not be able to work due to depression and will need time off.

If this period lasts longer than seven days, they’ll need to complete a work capacity assessment to evaluate their condition and determine their access to Employment Support Allowance ESA.

Your staff needs to know their rights while they’re recovering. You can outline the answers to these questions in your policy.

  • Can you contact them?
  • Does it count towards their holiday or sick days?
  • Can you implement a phased return to work plan?
  • Does their pay remain the same?

Get support with employee wellbeing with Health Assured

Create a healthy work environment and engage your team members by setting an example.

One way you can do this is by having an Employee Assistance Programme, which improves wellbeing. Our EAP also comes with a wellbeing app, which employees can use 24/7 to access wellbeing resources.

For urgent guidance on managing an employee with depression, contact the Health Assured team. Call us now on 0844 891 0358.

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