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December 21, 2020

Depression at Work: Supporting Employees in Crisis

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Workplace Wellbeing

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Most of us think we know what depression is—yet rarely consider the impact mental health has in our professional lives and the organizations we’re part of You may be surprised to learn that depression costs over $51 billion in absenteeism to organizations in the U.S. each year. 

Unfortunately, many employees either ignore their symptoms or delay seeking treatment for them, leading to lost productivity and poorer overall workplace wellness. How can HR professionals help their workforce find the treatment they need when they need it?

What is depression?

In official terms, depression is defined as a state of perpetual sadness coupled with a withdrawal from activities a person once found enjoyable. Unlike bereavement or a reaction to a temporary setback such as the break-up of a personal relationship, depression does not come in waves. Even those suffering from grief will experience temporary moments of joy as they remember their loved ones.

Depression is a relatively unchanging feeling of sadness lasting for over two weeks that, if untreated, can lead to suicide in extreme cases: roughly 15% of those who suffer from severe depression will ultimately die by suicide. However, research suggests that approximately 80% of patients with depression will improve with treatment.

Symptoms of depression can include changes in appetite, changes in sleep patterns (either sleeping too little or sleeping too much), increased fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, and difficulty concentrating or thinking. 

For those attempting to function normally at their job, these symptoms can manifest quite clearly. A coworker may be unresponsive during meetings, or have repeated difficulty meeting deadlines. Their overall affect may seem slower or less engaged than normal. They may stop attending work functions and begin to withdraw from activities they once visibly enjoyed. 

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced most in-person gatherings, a coworker suffering from depression may withdraw even from online activities such as group gaming sessions or speculation over sports like fantasy football. Although the specific red flags will vary from person to person, depression essentially changes someone’s normal behavior over a sustained period of time.

Depression and the workplace: Facts and statistics

Studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control reveal that rates of depression can vary depending on the profession of the patients. The personal care and service occupations, as well as food preparation and related occupations, tended to have higher overall rates of major depressive episodes among full-time workers aged 18 to 64 than other industries, with an average of nearly 11%. 

Meanwhile, the industries of architecture, engineering, surveying, social sciences, installation, maintenance, and repair tended to have the lowest incidences of major depressive episodes among the workforce, with an average of 4%. 

However, no one is necessarily “immune” to depression. Regardless of your profession, you may be at risk for this disease, especially if there is a family history of depression. While the causes of depression in the workplace are varied and complex, extreme job stress can be a trigger. 

You or your coworkers may have never experienced any unusual changes in your mood until you underwent an abnormally stressful period at work. Unfortunately, almost everyone lately has been exposed to more stressful working conditions than normal. The COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent changes around the world in how and when we work has contributed to a significant increase in burnout, anxiety, loneliness, and depression. 

As HR professionals, managing this new climate of increased burnout and isolation (which often can trigger depression) can at first seem overwhelming. But there are proven solutions to helping your workforce which start with creating a culture of awareness and acceptance. 

How to support employees suffering from depression

For years, the topic of depression at work carried with it a social stigma. While most organizations are now open about mental health care options for their workforce, many employees may still unnecessarily fear repercussions for broaching the topic. For HR professionals, it’s important to understand that a gentle, welcoming approach is best. No one wants to feel shamed or as if they are being singled out for treatment.

One important way to erase stigma and increase awareness is to host seminars or discussions that are open to all employees. These informational gatherings help spread the word about your company’s mental health care policies while also offering employees a clear path to seeking the help they need. 

However, increasing this awareness doesn’t have to rest entirely with the HR team. During COVID-19, some high-level managers begin team meetings with so-called “sentiment checks.” Essentially, the manager makes it clear that working conditions are exceptionally difficult right now, and that it’s perfectly acceptable for colleagues to admit that they may be struggling. By making mental health and well-being an acceptable topic, managers help eliminate the stigma around the topic, and can also prompt people to seek needed care at a much earlier date.

This is enormously beneficial not only to employees but to the company as a whole. A person who seeks treatment when they first start experiencing symptoms of depression will likely have a much quicker recovery and avoid more severe depressive episodes, which will result in lower health care costs for the company.

Of course, raising awareness is only one part of the employee support system. Partnering with an excellent mental health care provider is the second crucial component of helping and healing your workforce. 

For those seeking treatment for depression, finding the right balance of talk therapy, medications, and/or additional care options is a delicate process. As a mental health care provider, Spring Health has worked tirelessly to create a precise, data-driven diagnostic system that helps patients find the right treatment in the shortest amount of time. 

We know that the journey to healing requires patience, trust, and support. Our years of meticulous data collection and scientific research enable us to offer you and your workforce the highest and most accurate level of care. We can rapidly match patients with our extensive network of physicians, therapists, and medical personnel. To find out more about what Spring Health can offer you, please request a demo.

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