HR Answers: How to Help Combat Depression in the Workplace

depressed female employee sitting alone at desk with head bowed
By Sophie Bishop

5 minutes

Four strategies to promote well-being and provide support for employees struggling with mental health

Depression affects 6.8 million adults (31%) of the U.S. population. It affects people whether they’re at home or at work, awake or asleep, and can have a significant impact on a person’s health and well-being.

Despite its prevalence, many workplaces are ill-equipped to provide support that employees struggling with depression desperately need. If you are passionate about helping to combat the ever-rising issue of depression in the workplace, keep reading.

What Is Depression?

Depression is more than low feelings or fluctuating emotions. Most people experience days when they feel low or even despondent—this does not mean they are suffering from depression.

Depression is a real condition that can have a significant impact on people's personal and professional lives. Depression causes feelings ranging from persistent low moods to suicidal thoughts and, sadly, suicide attempts.

Depression can affect everyone differently. Sometimes it’s genetic. Sometimes it’s triggered by big life events, such as a relationship breakdown, past trauma, bereavement, loss of employment or giving birth. However it starts, it’s important to have the support you need to get through.

Common Symptoms of Depression  

While depression can affect everyone differently, there are some common signs and symptoms of the condition. David Nesenoff at Tikvah Lake Recovery, a treatment center for substance abuse, addiction and mental health issues, notes a few signs of depression to watch for if you think you or a loved one might be struggling. For example:

  • Have you experienced a negative, persistent shift in mood?
  • Have you lost interest in activities that you used to enjoy?
  • Have you experienced a change in patterns of sleep, appetite or energy?
  • Do you find yourself having repetitive negative patterns of thought?
  • Are you finding it hard to focus or remember things that were once easy?

How to Combat Depression in the Workplace  

As an employer, you hold a lot of responsibility for the health and well-being of your employees. Whether you have personally experienced the effects of depression or not, understanding its prevalence in the modern American workplace should be enough to motivate you towards driving positive changes in your own work environment.

Below are four strategies to help you combat depression in the workplace.

1.    Educate Yourself and Your Team  

One of the biggest reasons the topic of depression is so quickly swept under the rug in professional environments is due to a lack of education. If you don’t know a lot about depression and its effects on individuals, it can be easy to assume that those who are struggling will simply seek out the support they need when they need it. However, this is rarely the case.

If you want to help combat depression in the workplace, you need to educate yourself and your team. Getting educated about depression will help reduce its stigma, promote empathy and normalize talking about mental health in the workplace. It is one of the best ways you can proactively combat depression and advocate for positive change.

If you and your team are educated about depression, know how to spot the warning signs and are able to provide effective support, you will be able to anticipate the needs of your employees better and cultivate a happier workforce.

2.    Introduce Flexible Work Policies  

Since the pandemic, flexible work schedules and support for remote work have increased dramatically. According to Make It, “Flex work can promote autonomy in areas like making a work schedule or having to show up in person for a shift. Furthermore, it allows managers to customize initiatives and policies to individual employee needs.”

Flexible work policies can help support struggling employees by putting them in control of when and where they work. For some employees, strict 9-to-5 schedules can worsen their symptoms of depression, making it harder to get through the day. Flexible working arrangements are an effective way to offer support to struggling employees and cultivate a happier, healthier workforce.

3.    Positively Affirm Your Employees  

Positive affirmations can go a long way in the workplace—particularly when they come from team leaders or managers. Your employees want to know that they’re doing a good job, and sometimes all it takes to encourage and motivate them are a few kind words. Stand out as a leader and advocate for your employees.

Positive affirmations can be especially helpful for those in your workplace who are struggling with depression. As mentioned above, one of the symptoms of depression is a feeling of worthlessness. Depressed employees often have a lot of negative self-talk spiraling through their minds. Mindfully encouraging them with positive feedback or a few kind words can go a long way.

4.    Provide Mental Health Support  

Depression is a serious condition. When not professionally treated, depression can spiral out of control, leading a person to feel suicidal and totally alone.

It is important to recognize that, while you should do everything you can to help combat depression in the workplace, this will not negate the need for professional support. Alongside the changes you implement in your workplace, it is important to make mental health support and benefits available to your employees and to let them know such offerings are available.

There are many organizations you can link up with that offer mental health support in the workplace, such as professional counselors and therapists. Many employees will want to receive support anonymously, so we recommend linking up with external services that people can reach out to, should they need help.

Some organizations provide fully paid for therapy or counseling sessions outside of work so that finances are not a hindrance to employees receiving the professional help and support they need.

Combating depression in the workplace can feel like an uphill battle. Depression affects everyone differently and, therefore, it can be hard to determine the best way to help. However, I hope the strategies in this article have provided some food for thought. Just remember: Every change you make to help combat depression in the workplace could save a life.

Sophie Bishop is a medical journalist who specializes in psychology. Sophie’s passion is to raise awareness through her writing about healthcare, mental well-being and sustainability issues, and she is looking to connect with an engaged audience of working professionals. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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