There was a collective gasp of shock when we all heard of the suicide of Robin Williams. How could a man who constantly made everyone laugh be so depressed that he would take his own life? How could those around him not see the signs?
Depression and suicide are at a crisis level:
- In 2013 in Kitsap County, there were 30 suicides
- 77% were males
- 57% were over 40
- This year we have had 25 suicides, of which 88% were male & 76% were over 40
Frequently, people think that it’s teenagers we need to worry about, but these statistics show that it is more often middle-aged men like Robin Williams who fall victim to depression and then suicide.
What does this have to do with the workplace?
A 2013 Gallup poll revealed that about 12% of workers has been diagnosed with depression. The Centers for Disease Control estimates depression causes 200 million lost workdays each year, and costs employers $17 to $4 billion.
Signs of depression in employees:
First of all, we need to recognize the signs of depression. Many of those exhibited in the workplace can be performance-related. They can include:
- Poor quality work
- Accidents on the job
- Indecisiveness & forgetfulness
- Missing deadlines
- Poor relationships with others
- Low morale
- Absenteeism & tardiness
- Lower productivity
You might see the employee become more prone to anger, irritability, or tears. What you will be witnessing is a change in your employee’s performance due to their depression.
What to do when you think an employee is depressed:
Obviously, we are not mental health counselors, therapists or doctors. It is not your position or place to diagnose an employee’s depression. Your job is to deal with the performance issues.
Your conversation with the employee might go something like this: “Julie, I’ve noticed you’ve been late five times in the last two weeks, and your weekly report was incomplete. Also, I asked you to participate in yesterday’s strategy meeting and you failed to show up. This just isn’t like you. What’s going on?”
Be ready to refer your employee to appropriate resources.
If your company has an Employee Assistance Program, that’s a great place to start. If not, know what resources there are and what your company is willing and able to do for your employee.
Educate yourself about depression:
If you don’t know much about depression yourself, get educated on it.
Clinical depression is not just feeling sad, and it’s not something you just snap out of. It doesn’t necessarily make sense to others either. It might seem to you that Robin Williams had a lot to live for, but that obviously wasn’t how he felt.
Removing the stigma from mental health problems:
Studies show that employees aren’t likely to voluntarily come to their employers to tell them they are depressed. They fear the stigma attached to depression, and they frankly fear for their jobs and their careers.
We can help remove that stigma by beginning to have open conversations in our workplaces about depression and mental health. Treating it as a health condition, talking openly about it, and making all of our employees aware of their options helps our employees feel comfortable seeking the assistance they need, when they need it.
Employment regulations about depression:
This is not just about doing what’s right. It’s also about doing what’s required by law.
Employees with depression are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for them.
Oftentimes what’s needed is a flexible work schedule, or some time off work until the right medication has time to take effect. The good news from the CDC is that 80% of patients with depression will improve with treatment.
Depression is a life-threatening disease, as we all learned by the death of Robin Williams. But it is a preventable death.
There are a lot of very good people in Kitsap County working on a task force right now to lower the incidence of suicide in our County. We, as employers, can take part in this effort by becoming more aware of the signs of depression in the workplace, encouraging conversations about depression, and removing the stigma from mental health issues.