Would you be surprised to learn that more than 8 percent of adults in the United States suffer from depression? The information from the National Institutes for Health shows that depression affects people in all walks of life.
The Mayo Clinic defines depression as "a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest." It affects how people feel, think and behave, and it can lead to emotional and physical problems. It's more than just a bout of the blues, and it's not easy to just "snap out of it."
Depression can also spill over onto an employee's co-workers by affecting their moods. Unchecked, this can lead to company-wide morale problems. Not only that, but an employee who's going through a bout of depression can become unreliable, further affecting his or her team's ability to perform at their best. The negative consequences of rising employee depression can be devastating for both the employee and the company.
Here are nine tips to help your company and your most precious asset, your employees, deal with depression:
1. Make Your Business a Great Place to Work
A depressed mood may be triggered by stressful workplace situations, including overwork, unclear job expectations, unpleasant working conditions and a work-life imbalance. As an employer, you may be able to guard against this by creating a work environment that nurtures your employees so they can give you the best they have to offer.
A Great Place To Work is a global organization that identifies great workplaces around the world. Here's how it defines a great place to work from a manager's perspective: It's a workplace where you "achieve your organizational objectives with employees who give their Personal Best and work together as a Team/Family—all in an environment of Trust." From an employee's perspective, a great place to work is defined as a place where "you trust the people you work for and with, you have great pride in what you do, and you enjoy the people you work with."
Does your company fit these two definitions? If not, what can you do to improve the culture and workplace conditions? Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Are all employees treated with respect?
- Do people feel supported, both personally and professionally?
- Do people feel safe? That is, can they be sure their manager is out to help them and not hinder them?
- Is there transparency in daily dealings with employees?
- Do people feel valued and appreciated for their efforts?
- Do people feel listened to?
- Can people rely on their manager's fairness in dealing with them?
2. Understand Subthreshold Depression
Subthreshold depression is a form of depression that doesn't meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression but can still affect a person's ability to perform their daily duties. Symptoms include feeling depressed for one or two days a week, without having been formally diagnosed as being depressed. Despite a lack of diagnosis, this group shows significantly higher rates of absenteeism and productivity loss compared to those who report rarely feeling depressed.
Traditional medical services focus on treating serious conditions such as full-blown depression. This means that those who suffer from subthreshold depression may not get the proper attention and may suffer without relief. But you can help these employees and prevent the condition from deteriorating. Dr. Richard Bedrosian recommends digital health coaching initiatives for this group, which involves behavior change interventions delivered through technology. "Unlike static Web content," Bedrosian says, "digital coaching provides a behavior change plan tailored to each user’s unique demographic and psychological profile, thereby increasing personal relevance and efficacy."
3. Know How to Offer Help to a Depressed Employee
There are two parts to offering help to an employee who may be struggling with depression. One can be to first ask them to tell you what you can do to help them. Workplace stress and wellness expert Mary Ann Baynton says asking the employee, "What can I do to help you be successful at your job?" is a sign of respect for the employee's ability to consider solutions. As their employer, it also helps you get a commitment to whatever solution is adopted since it will, in part, be created by the employee himself, rather than mere compliance to whatever you recommend.
The second part of that conversation is to raise your own awareness of helpful resources that you can have at your fingertips. In addition to crisis lines, hospital programs and clinics, there are many support groups, as well as community and other resources.
You can also help employees by telling them about such resources as The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, which offers a free depression screener. While none of these are a substitute for a medical opinion, they may prompt an employee to start looking into their condition so they can get proper help. Whatever you do, avoid making assumptions and don't diagnose.
4. Help Educate Employees on Self-Care
You can't force employees to seek treatment, but you can introduce them to such resources as Live Your Life Well, a free resource offered by Mental Health America. The site gives individuals tips on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, as well as valuable information on preventing depression.
5. Make Use of National Depression Screening Day
October 8 is National Depression Screening Day. Take advantage of this to raise awareness among your employees regarding the resources that are available to help them. Everyone can benefit from assessing their emotional health. On National Depression Screening Day, any member of the public can get a free mental health screen in their own state, or online.
6. Promote the Employee Assistance Program
If your company has an employee assistance program, remind workers that this is a benefit provided for their well-being. Often, employees don't take advantage of such programs because they haven't been promoted enough.
7. Be Inspired by Eco Therapy Practices
You can introduce this in the workplace by creating surroundings that are conducive to wellbeing, such as having plants around the workplace and allowing employees to bring their dog in on certain days as long as Fido’s visits don't interfere with the business. If your workplace has access to the outdoors, let employees sit outside to have their breaks.
8. Use Full-Spectrum Light Bulbs
One of the simplest and less costly things you can do is to ensure that your workplace is well-lit. Some people suffer quietly from SAD, seasonal affective disorder, a seasonal depression that commonly appears in winter. SAD appears to be associated with a lack of bright lights. Even if people aren't affected by SAD, a well-lit workplace that mimics sunlight can contribute to a feeling of well-being for everyone.
9. Use the Depression Calculator
A depression calculator can help you compute how much depression can cost your employees in suffering, and your company in dollars. The calculator claims to use algorithms based on clinical data, and predicts the expected number of days per year your employees may likely be absent from work or experience low productivity due to their depression, in addition to costs.
As a business owner, you can play a vital role in helping your employees experience a feeling of well-being while at work. Mentally healthy employees are happy employees, and happy employees mean happy customers, which in turn produce good business results.
"The greatest wealth is health," the poet Virgil said long ago. Your employees' health may also end up being your greatest wealth.
Read more articles on managing employees.
This article was originally published on August 28, 2014.