- Psychological Issues
As a supervisor, you may notice that some employees seem less productive and reliable than usual– they may often call in sick or arrive late to work, have more accidents, or just seem less interested in work. These individuals may be suffering from a very common illness called clinical depression. While it is not your job to diagnose depression, your understanding may help an employee get needed treatment.
In addition to personal suffering, depression takes its toll at the workplace:
“major depression and bipolar disorder accounted for 11% of all days lost from work in 1987, “ according to the medical director of a public utility company. There is, however good news. More than 80% of depressed people can be treated quickly and effectively. The key is to recognize the symptoms of depression early and to receive appropriate treatment. Unfortunately, nearly two out of three people with depression do not receive the treatment they need.
Many companies are helping employees with depression by providing training on depressive illnesses for supervisors, employee assistance, and occupational health personnel. Employers are also making appropriate treatment available through employee assistance programs and through company-sponsored health benefits. Such efforts are contributing to significant reductions in lost time and job-related accidents as well as marked increases in productivity.
Everyone gets the blues or feels sad from time to time. However, if a person experiences these emotions intensely or for two weeks or longer, it may signal clinical depression, a condition that requires treatment.
Clinical depression affects the total person–body, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors–and comes in various forms. Some people have a single bout of depression; others suffer recurrent episodes. Still others experience the severe mood swings of bipolar disorder–sometimes called manic-depressive illness–with moods alternating between depressive lows and manic highs.
If five or more of the symptoms of depression or mania persist for more than two weeks, or are interfering with work or family life, a thorough diagnosis is needed. This should include a complete physical checkup and history of family health problems as well as an evaluation of possible symptoms of depression.
DEPRESSION AFFECTS YOUR EMPLOYEES
John had been feeling depressed for weeks though he didn’t know why. He had lost his appetite and felt tired all the time. It wasn’t until he couldn’t get out of bed any more that his wife took him to a mental health professional for treatment. He soon showed improvement and was able to return to work.
Depression can affect your workers’ productivity judgment, ability to work with others, and overall job performance. The inability to concentrate fully or make decisions may lead to costly mistakes or accidents. In addition, it has been shown that depressed individuals have high rates of absenteeism and are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, resulting in other problems on and off the job.
Unfortunately, many depressed people suffer needlessly because they feel embarrassed, fear being perceived as weak, or do not recognize depression as a treatable illness.
TREATMENTS ARE EFFECTIVE
Mary couldn’t sleep at night and had trouble staying awake and concentrating during the day. After visiting the doctor and being put on medication for depression, she found that her symptoms disappeared and her work and social life improved.
As many as 80% of people with depression can be treated effectively, generally without missing much time from work or needing costly hospitalization. Effective treatments for depression include medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. These treatments usually begin to relieve symptoms in a matter of weeks.
“I’m concerned that recently you’ve been late to work often and aren’t meeting your performance objectives… I’d like to see you get back on track. I don’t know whether this is the case for you, but if personal issues are affecting your work, you can speak confidentially to one of our employee assistance counselors. The service was set up to help employees. Our conversation today and appointments with the counselor will be kept confidential. Whether or not you contact this service, you will still be expected to meet your performance goals.”
As a supervisor, you can learn about depression and the sources of help.
Reading this brochure is a good first step. Familiarize yourself with your company’s health benefits. Find out if your company has an employee assistance program (EAP) that can provide on-site consultation or refer employees to local resources.
As a supervisor, you cannot diagnose Depression
You can, however, note changes in work performance and listen to employee concerns. If your company does not have an EAP, ask a counselor for suggestions on how best to approach an employee who you suspect is experiencing work problems that may be related to depression.
When a previously productive employee begins to be absent or tardy frequently, or is unusually forgetful and error-prone, he/she may be experiencing a significant health problem.
If an employee voluntarily talks with you about health problems, including feeling depressed or down all the time, keep these points in mind:
6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 8184, MSC 9663
Bethesda, MD 20892-9663
National Institute of Mental Health
The Office of Communications and Public Liaison carries out educational activities and publishes and distributes research reports, press releases, fact sheets, and publications intended for researchers, health care providers, and the general public. A publications list may be obtained by contacting:
Office of Communications and Public Liaison, NIMH
Information Resources and Inquiries Branch
6001 Executive Blvd., Room 8184, MSC 9663
Bethesda, MD 20892-9663
Mental Health FAX 4U: 301-443-5158
NIMH home page address:
NIH Publication No. 96-3919
Printed 1995, Reprinted 1996
Updated: June 25, 2001