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Q&A: What to do about workplace depression?

David Price

Q: I am sure my manager is showing signs of depression. He is normally an outgoing person, but he has become withdrawn. His work is suffering, and I am concerned that clients will notice his state of mind. As this is a sensitive issue, should I ask him if there is a problem? What can I do?

A: One in six of us will at some point in our lives be diagnosed as suffering from depression or chronic anxiety disorder. So it is common as an employer to be managing and/or working alongside individuals who are currently suffering with a mental health condition.

It is not unusual for an employer to recognise that someone is struggling psychologically when they begin to see a decline in their performance.

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Some signs to look out for are: continuous low mood or sadness, noticeable ongoing changes in their personality, speaking slower than usual, not performing well at work, feeling tearful, feeling irritable or intolerant of others, finding it difficult to make decisions, feeling constantly anxious or worried. For such an employee, feeling supported by his employer will increase his overall productivity and reduce absences.

At first you may want to apply some basic rules and techniques. Talk to your employee. Tell him you have noticed a change in his personality and a decline in his work performance. Express your concern, and your desire to help.

In an ideal world your employee will open up. If he does not feel confident sharing his problems he may tell you everything is fine. It is important that you keep trying, and repeat the conversation at least two more times, especially if there is any further decline in his performance. Once your employee feels comfortable disclosing some of his feelings, listen with a non-judgmental ear. Reassure him that you understand his difficult situation, which is affecting his ability to cope.

The next stage is to actively encourage further support. If your employee has not visited his GP, he should do so. Not everyone wants to be medicated, but other support and interventions can be accessed via the GP. If your employee can access a counselling advice service this would be very beneficial. Once you have spoken to your employee, keep up the momentum of support, and ensure you have regular meetings with him.

Remember, depression is a diagnosable condition – although not everyone who is suffering with low mood is depressed. Many people’s low moods will elevate when the problems causing them have eased. However, those who are suffering with depression may not have any single specific cause of their illness, and will need further medical and psychological support to help them function.

David Price is managing director of Health Assured