How to deal with an employee with depression

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Health Assured team

20 January 2020

During times of worry, we all have bouts of depression or anxiety—it’s totally normal. However, when these feelings are long-lasting or arise without cause, it can become a problem.

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

Having established that depression at work can affect anyone (a third of all employees) as well as the stigma attached to mental health conditions, it’s important to understand how to manage depression in the workplace.

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.

For urgent guidance on managing an employee with depression, contact the Health Assured team. Our experienced counsellors offer valuable advice and support to employees as part of our employee assistance programme (EAP). Call us now on 0844 892 2493.

This piece explores the options available to you when managing depression at work. In it, we’ll explore the steps you can take to protect an employee’s experiencing mental ill-health.


Depression and employment law

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the authority responsible for regulating and enforcing legislation related to health & safety in the workplace as well as your duty of care to your staff.

The Equality Act 2010 highlights your responsibilities for the health & safety of your staff. In another piece on mental health discrimination, we explore the legislation in place that protects the physical and mental wellbeing of your employees.

As well as defining what classes as a ‘disability’, the act goes on to suggest measures you can take to protect those in your workforce including carrying out risk assessments and making reasonable adjustments.

Employers that don’t abide by the legislation are likely to be taken to an employment tribunal for claims of disability discrimination.

Depression, work and COVID-19

We've had a difficult year, with lockdowns, ever-changing rules and uncertainty about the future. While we're all in this together, the isolation, anxiety and stress of the pandemic is leading to mental health issues in a lot of people. 

The shift to remote working for many people is another factor in this. Again, it can be a touch isolating—people with no experience of working from home can struggle with the change in routine.

It's more important than ever to monitor, observe and communicate with your employees during the pandemic and beyond. Spotting and managing loneliness at work, keeping a keen eye out for developing mental health issues, and taking steps to reduce stress in your people during the pandemic are vital steps for the caring employer.

Dealing with depression at work

Firstly, it’s important to highlight the difference between depression and anxiety. Although similar, they’re considered separate mental conditions:

  • Anxiety: Relates to the feeling of dread or worry that might arise as a result of uncertainty or unease.
  • Depression: The feeling of dejection or unhappiness that affects how an individual thinks and reacts to various situations.

It’s not uncommon for those with depression to experience similar symptoms as someone with anxiety and vice versa.

This includes changes in their behaviour, work output, eating habits, etc. Moreover, because of their similarities, some of the causes and treatment of both conditions may overlap.

Once you recognise the differences and before you’re fully able to support an employee with depression, you’ll need to be able to identify the types of depression.

Among the most common forms are:

Once you understand the differences between the two, we can now talk about how to deal with an employee with depression.

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

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. Our previous piece explores the stigma associated with ill mental health. In it, we explore both social and self-stigma as well as the business costs of staying silent. 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. Well ideally, the same should apply when an employee’s dealing with depression at work. MHFA is a proactive approach to dealing with mental health problems in the workplace. It trains your staff to identify the symptoms of ill mental health and offer the appropriate support.

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. They’re 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.

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. 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.

Listen: Sometimes all we need is 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. Allow them to explain in their own words how they’re feeling, 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 worsening, they might need to take some time off work to recover.

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


Can we help?

Contact Health Assured today for additional information on any of the topics mentioned in the article. Call us free on 0844 892 2493.

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