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Recognizing the Signs of Depression in Employees

written by: Alicia Miller • edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick • updated: 5/12/2011

As an employer, you may not be sure how to address specific concerns with your employees, especially when you're dealing with topics like depression. While it's not your job to diagnose employees, you can help direct them to the appropriate resource if you're concerned that they may be depressed.

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    Identify the Signs of Depression

    One of the first things you can do as an employer is to learn the signs of depression in employees. Often, employees who are depressed may be pinpointed as having a bad attitude or being lazy. Your employee may exhibit frequent absenteeism, a lack of cooperation and willingness, be tired all the time, have difficulty accepting orders, show signs of substance abuse (such as coming in to work smelling of alcohol), or have poor relations with coworkers. In addition, there are several tell-tale signs of clinical depression. The person may exhibit a depressed or lowered mood most days of the week, show signs of hopelessness or worthlessness, such as a decreased level of self-esteem, manifesting in negative or self-critical comments, have frequent accidents or disregard safety rules. You may notice other signs of depression in your employee, such as missing deadlines, handing in sub-par work or experiencing a decrease in productivity or creativity.

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    How to Help A Depressed Employee

    If you work for a large company, you may have access to an employee assistance program, also referred to as an EAP. If you are a supervisor or someone in another position of authority, you can contact the EAP to discuss your concerns and ask for advice on how to handle the situation or for information about the signs of depression in employees. EAP's usually operate on a confidential basis, so you might not even have to provide your name or position or the name of the employee you're concerned about to the EAP representative. You can also refer your employee to the EAP. You might take the employee aside for a private conversation and gently let them know that you've noticed some problems on the job lately. You can inform your employee that the EAP is available for counseling and referral. Sometimes, employees may be resistant to your suggestions or offers of help. The EAP can also be an excellent resource for handling such situations.

    If you work for a smaller company or your company doesn't have an EAP, you can still address the situation with your employee in a tactful, concerned, yet firm, manner. Remember to maintain clear and firm boundaries. You are not responsible for diagnosing or providing therapy to your employees. However, you can provide information about certain local community mental health agencies or suggest that the employee call your group insurance company for a referral to a local counselor to discuss some of their problems. You might also want to check with your union or legal service to discuss the laws in your country regarding employees with disabilities, as certain laws can affect your handling of the situation.

    The employee may not follow up on your advice, however well-intended it may be. You may need to set firm boundaries with the individual and let them know that while you're concerned about their problems, they also have to improve their work habits. You might suiggest that they take some personal of vacation time off from work. Sometimes this can be helpful to employees who are feeling stressed or overloaded. Be sure and empathize, no one wants depression and many times it is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain.

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    References

    PsychCentral: Depression in Employees http://psychcentral.com/lib/2007/depression-in-employees/

    Southeast ADA Center: Employee with Depression http://www.sedbtac.org/ada/publications/emptidbitsTemplate.php?ref=2061