How HR Teams Can Identify, Prevent, and Help Depressed Employees
Depression among U.S. employees has risen steadily over the past few years. According to recent data from Pathways, over 70% of employees showed concern with depression in Q4 of 2020. Additionally, researchers from Boston University found that the depression rate has tripled among U.S. adults since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So what does this mean for employers?
Depression in the workplace can have long-standing effects if left untreated. For example, it can lead to poor performance, lost productivity, increased absenteeism, and reduced job satisfaction. These things can have a big impact on an organizations’ bottom line—the CDC estimates that employees miss over 200 million workdays each year due to depression.
If your company addresses employee depression, potential outcomes include lower absenteeism and presenteeism, increased collaboration, and more productive employees. Additionally, well-designed, evidence-based employee health and wellness programs can reduce employee medical costs and show companies a positive return on investment.
Continue reading to discover how HR teams can identify, prevent, and help employees struggling with depression, creating a happier and healthier workplace.
How to Identify Depression in the Workplace
Depression is a common but serious mood disorder that causes severe symptoms that affect how someone feels, thinks, and handles daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. Employees who are struggling with depression are likely to exhibit some or all of the following symptoms:
- Feelings of sadness or emptiness over long periods
- Extreme irritability over seemingly minor things
- Anxiety and restlessness
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of interest in activities
- Fixation on the past or on things that have gone wrong
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Aches, pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause
Additionally, employees operating in particular work environments are at a higher risk of depression. Some characteristics of those environments include:
- poor or unsafe working conditions
- high turnover rates
- poor work-life balance
- lack of upward mobility
- irregular working hours
- history of workplace harassment and discrimination
If your human resources team notices many employees who show signs of depression, consider distributing a survey that screens for the common symptoms. A well-designed depression screening, such as the PHQ-9, will give your team insights into the depression levels in your workplace and the potential causes. You can then use these insights to design and develop a customized mental and behavioral health wellness program that is right for your organization.
How HR Can Help Depressed Employees
HR professionals wear many hats in today’s world—including ‘payroll expert,’ ‘compliance analyst,’ and ‘recruiting aficionado’— but ‘company therapist’ should not be one of them. However, employees often feel safe seeking help from their HR department when they’re struggling. So if an employee comes to you with concerns about their depression levels—lead with empathy.
Reduce shame. The stigma around mental health creates considerable barriers for employees who are struggling to ask for help. If an employee seeks help from HR, they’ve probably been struggling with depression for a while. Taking the step to ask for help puts employees in a vulnerable position. Having a conversation about mental health with an employee who’s struggling should be judgment-free.
Normalize depression. It results from a treatable neurochemical imbalance, and many people struggle with depression, especially in the current day and age of elevated stress and uncertainty. Give hope. Depression is highly treatable. Affirm that the employee is taking this step into wellness.
Validate their experience. Discussing changes in their work performance or behavior can validate an employee’s experience. If an employee’s depression has impacted their ability to complete projects, or they’ve withdrawn socially, touch on that during your conversation. Focusing on changes in their performance or behavior can bring the conversation back to the workplace and make them feel seen. Validating their experience can encourage employees to seek help from a professional.
Give support. Show that you’re here to help. Actively listen to the employee’s personal experience and needs, know their voice is heard, then refer them to a mental and behavioral health resource. If your company offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), they can connect employees struggling with depression to mental health professionals who can adequately diagnose and potentially treat the issue.
Explore resources. Beyond referring them to your company’s EAP, explore other benefits your company offers to support employees suffering from depression. For example, if your organization provides health insurance, encourage employees to use the insurance company’s find-a-provider service to get connected with a behavioral health professional who’s in-network. Other tools like Psychology Today allow employees to find mental health care providers who accept their insurance.
If an employee shows signs of extreme emotional distress or expresses thoughts of self-harm, please refer them immediately to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.623.8255.
Preventing Workplace Depression Before Costly Interventions Are Needed
One of the best ways an employee can prevent employee depression is by making mental health a core pillar of their wellness initiatives. A wellness program focused on mental and behavioral health has many benefits for an organization, including:
- destigmatizing mental health issues in the workplace
- promoting mental health resources where an employee can seek treatment, like an EAP
- improving both the physical and mental health of employees, potentially lowering health-related costs
- providing an additional employee benefit, which HR teams can use in recruiting and retention efforts
For HR teams at smaller companies, generic programming is readily available online. But, on the other hand, customized mental health programs are the most effective, according to a recent Cigna study. By accounting for each workplace’s unique health and well-being issues, customized employee mental health programs generate impressive returns in reduced healthcare costs, absenteeism, and improved productivity gains.
To ensure the maximum effectiveness of your mental health programming, partner with a provider who will work hand-in-hand with your HR team to design courses that fit your company culture and integrate well within your work environment.
Your employees may be struggling—luckily, HR teams are in a great position to help prevent workplace depression. If you have any questions on employee depression or would like to learn more about how Pathways at Work can help your team proactively manage their mental health, please contact us today.