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How to support employees with depression

Whether you’re handling depression at work or looking out for your team and want to tackle depression in the workplace, working with depression or anxiety can be challenging.

The significance of mental health and wellbeing is gaining recognition both in society and the workplace. However, it begs the question: are employers truly taking adequate measures to support their employees, or is it becoming more of a superficial checkbox exercise?

Depression in the workplace is more common than some might imagine, too. Our Mental Health Report shows that 37% of employees have taken time off for their mental wellbeing over the last two years, but 45% of them still fear telling the truth when taking mental health days. Stress, depression or anxiety was one of the top reasons for absenteeism in 2021/22, with 17 million days lost. In order to effectively address depression in the workplace, it's important to consider a few key points.

What is depression at work?

Experiencing depression at work is not necessarily the same as work causing depression. Rather, it could be that the workplace worsens symptoms of anyone already living with depression. 

Depression is a complex condition that can be caused by a variety of factors, many of which can be unrelated to the workplace. That’s why you shouldn’t take it personally when you realise an employee is working with depression.

Naturally, you should always work towards making your workplace or job as pleasant as possible for their employee. Otherwise, you risk negative workplace effects such as:

  • Loss of productivity
  • Increase in absenteeism
  • Rise in burnout
  • Chance of causing or worsening anxiety
  • Higher stress levels
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How to help an employee with depression and anxiety

When you’re looking to support those living with depression in the workplace, there are plenty of signs and symptoms to look out for. Knowing these can be helpful in order to recognise the employees that may need your support.

Symptoms of depression:

  • Tearfulness, nervousness, and irritability
  • Low confidence
  • Loss of concentration and motivation
  • Tiredness and excessive yawning
  • Loss of or increase in appetite
  • Difficulty coping with workload
  • Withdrawal from social activities

Symptoms of anxiety:

  • Appearing pale or tense
  • Easily startled by everyday sounds
  • Loss of concentration
  • Irritability
  • Tendency to avoid certain situations

If you spot a combination of these signs, it could be time to arrange an informal catch up  with your employee. However, you should avoid pointing out which symptoms you’ve noticed to merit a chat. Someone suffering from depression or anxiety may be sensitive or embarrassed about their symptoms or may not even know if they’re suffering!

When reaching out to any employees with depression, you need to make sure you’re friendly, understanding and approachable. This shows team members you’re willing to talk about a difficult subject, encouraging them to seek your advice in the future.

Bear in mind, employees might blame a negative work environment for their symptoms, so you’ll need to be open to feedback. Whether or not you’ve noticed that any employees are showing symptoms of depression, make it clear to all your staff that your door is always open.

What to do when an employee says they are struggling

Sometimes, an employee working with depression may approach you on their own or say that they are depressed or over-stressed. Here is what you can do to make work life easier for them:

1. Make adjustments

Engage in open and honest communication to understand their specific needs and concerns. Explore possible adjustments that can be made, such as flexible work hours, modified tasks, or additional resources, to help alleviate their difficulties. 

2. Address workplace triggers

Help the employee to address the workplace triggers that could be responsible. For example, you could discuss adjusting their working hours or creating a process that ensures that work is delegated in a way that won’t prove overwhelming. You could  also suggest a change of workplace, allowing them to work from home more (if office based). 

3. Offer them the right support

It’s important to ensure your employees know what support is available to help depression at work. If your workplace offers mental health support, make sure it’s well publicised and remind them of this help available. 

If you don’t currently offer any extra support, consider introducing measures to help. External mental health and Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) helplines are affordable ways to support employees who live with depression. You could also consider training mental health first aiders within your workplace. 

4. Don't be too intense

Checking in with a struggling employee is only natural but overdoing it could do more harm than good. Sometimes, people living with depression may want a quiet moment alone, while others may not be in the mood to talk. Many individuals who live with depression may see work as something that gets them out of bed and is a distraction from intrusive thoughts.

You never know how someone may really be feeling, so be mindful that too much special attention may not be the answer. This is especially true if the employee is suffering from depression caused by sensitive topics, such as attempting to manage their mental health if they’re going through the menopause – 69% of women reported feeling depressed or anxious whilst experiencing it.

Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re not able to tackle everything that’s troubling them, and assure them that external help is available, such as that provided by a mental health professional.

5. Take part in Mental Health Awareness campaigns

Being aware of days such as World Mental Health Day can show employees working with depression you care. One example of organically addressing depression at work is organising events like an office ‘Tea and Talk’ event.

These events are helpful when discussing depression in the workplace, especially with support from the Mental Health Foundation. Simply take some time to sit down for a break with your team at some point during the day. Enjoy a brew, a slice of cake, and encourage your team to talk or approach you on their own if they’re feeling down.

What can employers do to support everyone's mental health?

Nurturing a supportive and open work environment in general is crucial. Our Mental Health Report found that 37% of employees have taken time off due to poor mental wellbeing in the last two years, with root causes including stress, anxiety or depression. 

Employees also massively consider the health and wellbeing practices at a company before accepting job, including good work-life balance, sharing the same values and benefits packages. Find out more here about how you create a good workplace culture for your employees. While these measures may not directly address an employee living with depression, they establish a foundation for a healthier workplace culture that can benefit everyone's mental health.

How our business healthcare can help

Benenden Healthcare for Business provides an affordable, high quality, private healthcare solution to support all your employees, whether they’re handling depression at work, or you simply want to look out for their wellbeing. 

What’s more, it’s easy to setup and there are no exclusions on pre-existing medical conditions. We want to help make healthcare a standard of employment for everyone, rather than just a perk for the few. 

See how we can help you develop a healthcare solution that works for your whole business and helps you to tackle depression in the workplace.

Got a question and want to know more? Call us FREE on 0800 414 8179.