How to Recognize Signs of Depression at Work

A new empasis on mental health in the workplace has recently emerged. Train your managers to recognize signs of depression at work.

how to recognize depression at work

As the evolving workplace starts to demand a larger emphasis on mental health, it’s important to stay privy to signs of depression in employees. Spotting symptoms of depression at work can be a challenge. As a manager, it’s your responsibility to recognize employee behaviors that could indicate a decline in mental health. There are five main stages in the behavioral health cycle that can be seen when an individual suffers from depression.

Employees experiencing depression at work progress through each stage differently. The good news is that employers can learn to recognize these stages and help team members progress in a positive way. Here’s a brief breakdown of the five stages:

  1. Risks Emerge: it may be difficult to detect symptoms of depression at this stage, but it’s good to be cognizant of any risks that could precede depressive feelings.
  2. Symptoms Escalate to Impact Performance: at this stage, it might start to become apparent to managers that some symptoms are developing.
  3. An Increase in Severity: when it begins to increase in severity, the employee’s work performance could be negatively impacted. At this point, a manager, coworker, or HR professional should step in to assess the situation.
  4. Chronic Impairment: it could soon become unsafe for an employee with chronic impairment to continue job responsibilities.
  5. Recovery Occurs: it’s possible for this stage to come much sooner than chronic impairment; it is the resolve of depressive symptoms either by treatment or simply naturally.

It’s important to note that depressive symptoms will not always present themselves in this logical and chronological style. Depressive episodes can be as short as two weeks, or longer than a few months. It’s important to intervene as soon as these symptoms appear to impair an employee’s work.

How do I Know if an Employee is Feeling Depressed?

Recognizing depression at work starts with documentation. It’s good practice for all managers to be trained to record employee achievements and work. This can be a good way to catch performance impairment and to keep track of its development.

What Signs are Indicative of Depression at Work?

If you start noticing a decline in work performance, it could be a sign of depression at work. Managers should keep an eye on performance-based behavior changes. Beyond performance changes, you may start to notice an increase in absences from work.

If an employee with a stellar attendance record starts using ample sick days or requesting more time off than usual, it may be a sign of depression at work. Changes in mood are another common indicator of a decline in mental health. If a worker who is typically very friendly to co-workers, supervisors, and customers becomes less social over time, pay attention to this sign. A common symptom of depression is a loss of interest in socializing or other everyday workplace activities and behaviors.

Is it my Job to Approach an Employee About Their Mental Health?

If these symptoms are starting to affect an employee’s work, then it is absolutely within your realm as a manager. It’s your responsibility to make sure your team is performing well and has access to the resources they need to be successful. Managers should receive proper training to not only recognize depression at work but also on how to connect employees with help and support they need.

Most large organizations offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to all staff members. Get to know what your company offers and how the programs can be utilized by team members. A company EAP often provides programs for those battling mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Counseling, assessments, referrals, and follow-up services are a few common perks of an EAP.

If your organization doesn’t offer an EAP, what other tools do you have to ensure your employees receive mental health support? Maybe you have a company-sponsored referral network of mental health professionals or printed materials that educate employees on coping with depression. Whatever it is, make sure you know where to point them.

Once you understand the resources your company offers, have a sit down with the staff member displaying signs of depression. Meet with the person privately and express your concerns for their mental well-being. If the employee acknowledges your concerns, give them access to the necessary support resources. Managers should follow a company-provided protocol for addressing mental health issues and depression at work.

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