April 27 2008 - This year, Depression Awareness Week (21 - 26 April 2008)
focused on the workplace. Research studies by the CIPD, Shaw Trust and Future Foundation show that managers
typically underestimate the extent that colleagues and employees suffer from stress, anxiety
and depression. In fact, nearly 30% of workers experience a mental health problem in any
In addition to the effect on employees' personal lives, mental health problems
disrupt wellbeing and morale, impacting their performance at work. Mental health problems are costly
for businesses as employees suffering from depression take an average of 30 days off for
each spell of sickness absence.
According to Gill Trevelyan, Head of Training and Equality Services at Acas, the employment relations service:
"Spotting and doing something about troubled employees
is an important business skill. As well as being good managers in the traditional sense, we urge bosses to look out
for early indicators before they develop into something more serious, like stress or depression. Healthy and content
workers translate directly into productive employees."
Acas has provided advice for managers and colleagues on how to spot
and deal with mental health problems at work:
Keep your eyes open...The first sign that someone may have depression or a problem with their mental health is often in changes in their day-to-day behaviour. This could be uncharacteristic behaviour such as not being able to cope with their work, seeming distracted, a sudden loss in motivation or absenteeism. Look out for these signs as a potential warning that someone may be suffering from the early stages of depression.
...but don't make assumptions: We all have our ups and downs, so a change in behaviour doesn't necessarily mean that there is a problem. If you do notice inconsistent behaviour, then try to establish whether it's just a blip, or perhaps the signs of a more serious problem.
Get to the root of the problem: It's rare for someone to voluntarily talk about a mental health problem. Approaching a colleague who you feel may be suffering from a mental health issue is not easy. Try and arrange a moment to catch someone privately, and informally ask if they are feeling ok.
How can you help? Depression can sometimes be caused because of a work issue or a personal one. Act accordingly when you establish what the cause of the problem is. If it's work related then you have the responsibility and control to help remedy it. If it's a domestic issue, then talk to the individual about the changes you can implement to make things easier, such as flexible working. If they have not already found support, point them in the right direction towards help from their GP or a counsellor.
Create a culture: Your long-term aim should be to create a working environment which eradicates the stigma mental health can carry. Introducing policies will help doing this, so staff know and feel comfortable in feeling able to talk about the topic. You can also make support options available, like employment assistance programmes or access to occupational health.
Walk the talk: A policy will only work if lived out in practice. Work with your HR manager and team to ask them to train management and staff, and teach them to handle things sensitively. Evidence also suggests that exercise, a balanced diet and a healthy work pattern can help treat mild depression, so ask the company to provide advice and encouragement in these areas for the entire workforce.
Acas' new free guide on health, work and wellbeing helps businesses promote and manage a healthy workplace.
There is also a helpline: 08457 47 47 47.