Friday, November 04, 2011

Do you work with someone with Depression? Would you employ someone with depression?

Statistically the chances are that you are working with a person who is coping with a mood disorder such as Depression or Bipolar Disorder or that you have recruited someone with this challenge. It may be that you are the one with the mood disorder or have a family member who is.

Recent research published in BMC Medicine tells us that 15% of the population in high income countries are likely to experience depression in their lifetime, with 5.5% experiencing depression last year. In low to middle income countries, this number is 11%. You can read the full text of the research here.

The experience of a Major Depressive Episode (MDE) is higher (over 30%) in USA, France and the Netherlands, and lowest in China (12%). The incidence of MDE was very high in India (over 36%) though the Indian Health Ministry is unhappy with that finding.

So potentially, 1 in 6 of your employees, your team leaders, your managers, your customer service representatives, your salespeople, your number crunchers, your lawyers (actually it's statistically much higher for lawyers), your safety staff in fact anyone in any occupation may be clinically depressed at work at any time.

Depression is prevalent in the best countries to live

In Australia the most often cited statistic is that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 4 men will experience Depression in their lifetime, an average of 1 in 5.

This is worrying given that the 2011 United Nations Human Development Index rates the five best places to live as Norway, Australia, the Netherlands, the US and New Zealand and the World Health Organisation suggests that by the year 2020, Depression will be the world's second global burden of disease. It already is for men and women between 15 and 44 years of age.

Do you have workmates who are depressed?

The symptoms of depression include poor concentration, lack of motivation, little interest in anything, low energy and disturbed sleep. Just getting out of bed, showering and getting to work can be a major achievement.

What is the impact of these conditions on the quality and quantity of work of your employees ?

Productivity, quality, safety and engagement

It is not simply a challenging health issue, it is a productivity, safety and indeed, an engagement issue.

Why engagement? Because Depression (and Bipolar Disorder) don't pick and choose where to land. They are prevalent. And may be impacting your best performers.

What you do to support them and the people around them, may be a critical factor in choices that your employees make to remain with you or move on.

How do you support depressed employees?

There is a range of alternatives available that can bring relief. They include the 'talking' therapies, i.e. counselling, working with a psychologist, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy and so on.

Exercise is a powerful tool with research showing that 30 minutes of exercise a day is the equivalent of a dose of Prozac.

Mindfulness mediation is also being shown to be amazingly valuable.

But given that most people with jobs spend most of their waking hours at work, we have to think about the role of the manager and of colleagues and team mates – does what you do help or hinder recovery?

It’s nothing to do with me

If you don't think it's anything to do with you, think in hard terms of the bottom line. Ignoring it or even inadvertently making it worst, will impact your goals and the morale in your organisation.

In my experience, there are two main barriers.

First there is still such stigma attached to Depression that people don't admit to it. And if they do, people around them simply don't know what to do or say so they either do and say nothing or say things like 'just move on, get over it, don't bring it to work, there are 'plenty more fish in the sea', you'll find someone else, pull your socks up, it's not my problem, go and get a coffee, just take a few days off, take my advice and....' etc.

Underlying those thoughts is the notion that the person is just malingering.

But people don't choose to be depressed. It is an awful place to be. It is not something you can just 'snap out of' just like you can't just snap out of cancer or heart disease.

It is a medical condition. It is real but it is manageable.

Second, people are afraid to raise the issue. It's an example of what I call The Almond Effect. In this case, your amygdala warns you that by raising the issue you could be opening a Pandora's Box, that you haven't got time for it, that you might tip them over the edge, that they'll tell you that it's none of your business - all responses that you may not feel equipped to handle so we become fearful and don’t raise it.

But with 1 in 6 men and 1 in 4 women at risk, it is as significant a work issue as physical safety at work. It is not something that can be ignored.

What should you say or do?

One of the biggest fears is not knowing what to do or say.

I have given many presentations to CEO's, managers amd employees about the signs, symptoms, causes and treatments for Depression. Invariably these talks of themselves open up a significant channel for communication about an issue that remains stigmatised and troubling for employers and staff alike.

As a first step, provide your team with information and skills to work with colleagues with a mood disorder. I know that this will translate into increased productivity and engagement as people begin to understand the issues and how to help.

This is not just the right thing to do, it will produce tangible results on your bottom line. It gives real meaning and practical application to the words 'we care about our people'.


* Don't ignore it

* You won't tip people over the edge if you ask them if they are ok

* If you don't know where to start, begin by simply asking them how they are feeling

* Go a little further by saying what you've noticed in their mood or behaviour and gently describing what that is

* Don't be judgemental

* Don't think or tell them they are weak. The strongest people I know are people with Depression - think what they have to manage each day to even get to work, let alone perform well

* Don't think you have to give advice – that’s not what they need

* Use all your best listening skills - use open ended questions and acknowledge that you are listening with your body language and eye contact

* Encourage them to seek help if they have not already

* Validate them. i.e. let them know that you understand that it is a real experience for them and that it’s OK to talk about feeling down

* Suggest they speak to their GP or to the workplace employee health services provider

What you should do next if this is an issue in your workplace

1. Invite me to give a free awareness raising session in your workplace

2. Contact me if you’d like more information

3. Visit the Black Dog Institute website for facts sheets and resources