Depression in the Workplace

Signs Employees Are Suffering From Depression and How Employers Can Help

The mental health of employees is imperative to the success of any organization. Sadly, mental health of employees is often overlooked in the corporate world. Employees are expected to give their best, and talking about depression is not really encouraged. A lot of managers have no idea how to deal with employees who are suffering from depression. Globally, 300 million people are affected by depression and 80 percent of this number don’t have the courage to seek help.

According to a resource published by, many employees choose not to talk about their mental health because they are afraid of losing their jobs, and are concerned about confidentiality. A lot of employees are also unaware of the fact that they are depressed or fear that their insurance won’t cover the costs of treatment. Reports show that workplace depression is a huge problem for economies worldwide, costing billions to organizations annually. Research carried out by Mental Health America revealed that in the United States, when depression is left untreated, it costs over $51 billion dollars in absenteeism from work, and lost productivity, compared to $26 billion in direct treatment costs.

Employees with depression find it difficult to function properly. Even great artists like Van Gogh, when faced with depression struggled to find motivation to work. Research proves that early identification and treatment is important to productivity and recovery. It is important for managers to look out for the mental health of their employees. Here are some signs that managers should look out for:

Loss of motivation ― Depression is usually characterized by low motivation. Is your employee suddenly unenthusiastic about tasks?

Increased Frequency of Sick Days – Is your employee visiting the doctor more often but refuses to tell you the issue, even under confidence?

Decreased Productivity ― If your employee is constantly missing deadlines and doing sloppy work, it might be a sign of a greater problem.

Change of Social Behavior in the Work Place – The sociable employee becomes withdrawn; the cooperative behavior is now argumentative.

Absenteeism –– If they suddenly start taking sick days of more than usual, they might be dealing with a problem.

Tardiness –– Are they constantly late to work? Do they look cheerless when they get to work?

Tiredness ― Do they complain about being tired after doing the most basic of tasks?

 How managers can help depressed employees

Depression can easily be misinterpreted as laziness or poor work ethic. You can’t treat depression with threats or a pep talk. Chances are, you’re probably making it worse. If your employee is depressed, here are some steps that you can take.

 Create an open environment

Encourage workers to talk to you about any stress, anxiety or depression that they face. Create a culture of support where employees understand that they are not alone, and you will work with them to get through their depression.

Respect their confidentiality

Always remember that mental health information is highly sensitive. If an employee opens up to, it means they trust you enough to do so. Don’t pass on information to others except they give you permission to do so.

Don’t assume

Respect your employee enough to understand that the symptoms they display may not affect their ability to do their job. Don’t talk to them like they’re suddenly incapable ― a lot of depressed people are able to manage their conditions and perform their roles well. Instead, ask how you can help and explore options to make their work easier with them.

Offer flexible work options

If your employee is depressed, your priority should be their mental health. Give them flexible work options. Allow them to work from home, take naps at work or work lesser hours. Let them take a few days off when they don’t feel too good. Encourage them to take only tasks that they can handle and give them a chance to reduce their workload.

Check up on them

Offer a friendly shoulder and ask them how they’re doing every now and then. Don’t pressure them to talk, but make sure they understand that you are available to listen. Include them in activities with their co-workers when the feel up to it, and make them feel supported.

Managers have the responsibility of ensuring that workplaces are filled with positive energy, and employees feel safe. Standing by an employee when they are dealing with mental health problems reflects your organization’s values. As a leader, you should be heavily invested in the mental health of your employees and take steps to encourage them to take care of their mental health.

Depression (major depressive disorder)


Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living.

More than just a bout of the blues, depression isn’t a weakness and you can’t simply “snap out” of it. Depression may require long-term treatment. But don’t get discouraged. Most people with depression feel better with medication, psychotherapy or both.


Although depression may occur only once during your life, people typically have multiple episodes. During these episodes, symptoms occur most of the day, nearly every day and may include:

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

For many people with depression, symptoms usually are severe enough to cause noticeable problems in day-to-day activities, such as work, school, social activities or relationships with others. Some people may feel generally miserable or unhappy without really knowing why.

Depression symptoms in children and teens

Common signs and symptoms of depression in children and teenagers are similar to those of adults, but there can be some differences.

  • In younger children, symptoms of depression may include sadness, irritability, clinginess, worry, aches and pains, refusing to go to school, or being underweight.
  • In teens, symptoms may include sadness, irritability, feeling negative and worthless, anger, poor performance or poor attendance at school, feeling misunderstood and extremely sensitive, using recreational drugs or alcohol, eating or sleeping too much, self-harm, loss of interest in normal activities, and avoidance of social interaction.

Depression symptoms in older adults

Depression is not a normal part of growing older, and it should never be taken lightly. Unfortunately, depression often goes undiagnosed and untreated in older adults, and they may feel reluctant to seek help. Symptoms of depression may be different or less obvious in older adults, such as:

  • Memory difficulties or personality changes
  • Physical aches or pain
  • Fatigue, loss of appetite, sleep problems or loss of interest in sex — not caused by a medical condition or medication
  • Often wanting to stay at home, rather than going out to socialize or doing new things
  • Suicidal thinking or feelings, especially in older men

Risk factors

Depression often begins in the teens, 20s or 30s, but it can happen at any age. More women than men are diagnosed with depression, but this may be due in part because women are more likely to seek treatment.

Factors that seem to increase the risk of developing or triggering depression include:

  • Certain personality traits, such as low self-esteem and being too dependent, self-critical or pessimistic
  • Traumatic or stressful events, such as physical or sexual abuse, the death or loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or financial problems
  • Blood relatives with a history of depression, bipolar disorder, alcoholism or suicide
  • History of other mental health disorders, such as anxiety disorder, eating disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Abuse of alcohol or recreational drugs
  • Serious or chronic illness, including cancer, stroke, chronic pain or heart disease
  • Certain medications, such as some high blood pressure medications or sleeping pills (talk to your doctor before stopping any medication)


Depression is a serious disorder that can take a terrible toll on you and your family. Depression often gets worse if it isn’t treated, resulting in emotional, behavioral and health problems that affect every area of your life.

Examples of complications associated with depression include:

  • Excess weight or obesity, which can lead to heart disease and diabetes
  • Pain or physical illness
  • Alcohol or drug misuse
  • Anxiety, panic disorder or social phobia
  • Family conflicts, relationship difficulties, and work or school problems
  • Social isolation
  • Suicidal feelings, suicide attempts or suicide
  • Self-mutilation, such as cutting
  • Premature death from medical conditions

Types of Depression

  • Depressive disorders come in many different types, and while there are many similarities to each type of depression, each has its own unique set of symptoms.
  • The most commonly diagnosed form of depression is Major Depressive Disorder, a condition whose primary symptom is an overwhelming depressed mood for more than two weeks. The depressed mood affects all facets of the person’s life, including work, home life, relationships and friendships. A person with this kind of depression often finds it difficult to do much of anything or get motivated, so even going to seek treatment for this condition can be challenging.
  • Another type of depression is called. Dysthymia is similar to Major Depressive Disorder, but the symptoms occur over a much longer period of time – more than 2 years. This is considered a chronic form of depression, and treatment can be challenging as an individual with Dysthymia has often already tried all manner of treatment. Individuals diagnosed with this condition can also suffer from occasional bouts of Major Depressive Disorder.
  • A third type of depression is referred to as Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood. This condition is diagnosed when a person is adjusting to some new facet or change in their lives that has caused a great deal of stress. This disorder can even be diagnosed when a person is experiencing a good event in their life – such as a new marriage or a baby being born. Because the individual usually just needs a little additional support in their lives during this stressful time, treatment is time-limited and simple.
  • While there are many types of depression, some kinds of this condition seem to be related to changes in the length of days or seasonality. A seasonal depression is called Seasonal Affective Disorder(SAD). People with Seasonal Affective Disorder suffer the symptoms of a Major Depressive Disorder only during a specific time of year, usually winter. This appears to be related to the shorter days of winter, and the lack of sunlight in many parts of the country.
  • Depression is also a symptom of other disorders, such as Bipolar DisorderBipolardisorder is sometimes considered a “mood disorder,” but is not a form of depression. Bipolar disorder is characterized by swings of a person’s mood from depression to mania (mania is when a person is feeling lots of energy — like they are on top of the world and can do almost anything, often trying to do just that). The cycling mood changes from severe highs (mania) and lows (depression) can sometimes be dramatic and rapid in some people, but most often they are gradual.
  • After pregnancy, hormonal changes in a woman’s body may trigger symptoms of depression. More than half of the women suffering from Postpartum Depressionwill experience it again with the birth of another child. It is critical to identify this danger and treat it early. During pregnancy, the amount of two female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, in a woman’s body increases greatly. In the first 24 hours after childbirth, the amount of these hormones rapidly drops back down to their normal non-pregnant levels. Researchers think the fast change in hormone levels may lead to depression, just as smaller changes in hormones can affect a woman’s moods before she gets her menstrual period.