It’s been estimated that 340 million people worldwide suffer from depression. The majority of these individuals experience the condition during their peak career years. Depression in the workplace affects an employee’s work performance, the overall office dynamics, and employer costs. Studies show that employers will spend over $51 million in absenteeism and loss of productivity. Medical treatment for the condition can cost employers over $26 billion.
With such important elements at stake, HR professionals are encouraged to incorporate depression awareness as part of their wellness program. Understanding the condition, recognising the symptoms, and providing resources for victims, will allow employers to provide better wellbeing for their employees.
What is depression?
Depression or major depression is defined as a mood disorder where an individual experiences feelings of sadness, loss or frustration that interferes with his or her everyday life for several weeks or longer. Researchers believe that depression is a result of chemical changes in the brain. Genes or a stressful event, such as a breakup, divorce, job loss, child abuse or neglect, triggers these chemical changes. Certain conditions, including drug and alcohol abuse, steroid use, sleeping problems, and cancer can also trigger the onset of depression.
Symptoms of depression
Individuals with five or more of the following symptoms for two weeks or longer may be suffering from depression:
■ Persistent feeling of sadness, anxiousness or emptiness
■ Sleeping too little or too much
■ Change in appetite (eating more or less than usual) and weight
■ Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
■ Restlessness or irritability
■ Difficulty in concentration, memory or judgment
■ Fatigue or loss of energy
■ Persistent physical symptoms that don’t respond to treatment
■ Feelings of hopelessness
■ Thoughts of suicide
Depression awareness and initiatives
Depression can affect not only an employee’s work performance, but also his or her relationship with coworkers and managers. When these office dynamics are unbalanced, productivity will suffer – teamwork gets derailed and projects can get delayed.
Employers can implement depression awareness in their wellness program to help their employees identify this dangerous condition, and get treatment. By working with both managers and coworkers, employers can create a less stressful work environment that encourages healthier employee coping skills.
The initiatives below will help HR professionals take the necessary steps to introduce this important topic to their employees:
■ Provide depression education to all levels of staff – Be sure all employees are trained in depression awareness. This should include symptoms to look out for, as well as the proper resources to contact for help. Many times a coworker or manager can identify the symptoms in an employee before they realise they’re victims.
■ De-stigmatise depression – Remind your employees that depression is not a label, but a legitimate condition that can be cured with treatment. Providing an accepting environment will help victims heal faster.
■ Provide an EAP or other resource for counseling and treatment – Many EAPs offer excellent counseling and treatment. Be sure your employees have access to these services as part of their employee benefits.
■ Work with managers to offer support to victims during and after their treatment – Be sure your managers understand your employee’s situation, and provide reasonable work demands throughout treatment.
The bottom line
Depression is a condition that affects many working adults. Employers can minimise the affects of depression on their employees, productivity, and costs by implementing depression awareness in their wellness programs. HR professionals are encouraged to implement initiatives that provide depression research and awareness to all employees, provide EAP or other valuable resources to their employees, and work with managers to maintain realistic job demands. These initiatives will provide a healthier, and more accepting work environment for all.