The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) in collaboration with Hexor, recently released the most contemporary study in Depression in the workplace- the results are staggering[1].
imagesDepression is so often referred to as a “soft” issue, a HR concern that adopts low level priority and an illness that is ignorantly perceived to have little impact on the daily operations of business. This is simply not the case- and the statistics are now out to prove it. The topic that is so often glossed over as a “character weakness” and seldom taught in business schools is fast becoming one of society’s greatest disabilities. Whether you have depression directly, if you manage a team, or if you simply work with other human beings- these research results are imperative, as the World Health Organization predicts that depression will be the number one cause of disability by the year of 2030!
SO what is depression?
Depression is a mood disorder with chemical/neurological origins that can be brought on as a result of genetic or contextual factors. It can be episodic (a single episode) or chronic- a depressive disorder that will have recurring episodes periodically throughout ones lifetime. Depression is best treated with therapeutic intervention and medication, as well as through developing personal and professional support buffers[2].
The clinical symptoms include:

  • Low mood (decreased interest and pleasure in doing things eg, social engagements, sexual activities)
  • A feeling of worthlessness and guilt (low self-esteem, decreased confidence)
  • Concentration difficulties (inability to multitask/ hold many concepts in mind, memory difficulties, decreased ability to plan and problem solve, indecisiveness, slow processing of information, absent minded and ‘fuzzy’ thinking)
  • Slowed bodily movements (slowed responses- acting and reacting)
  • Fatigue accompanied by poor sleep quality
  • Irritability and anger outbursts
  • Anxiety (nervousness, indecision, high levels of tension)
  • Tearfulness and distress
  • Weight changes and changes in eating habits
  • Suicidal ideation (thoughts of self-harm / suicide)

Depression significantly impacts an individual’s cognition- the thinking, planning and processing parts of the brain, which enable someone to work at full aptitude. Neuroscience proves there are definite and detectable decreases in brain activity in neurological scans of depressed patients. The South African research through SADAG and Hexor (2015), suggests that:
74% of people with depression experienced symptoms of forgetfulness, indecisiveness and difficultly with concentrating.
54% admitted that they took more time to complete normal daily activities and jobs as a result of their mental health condition.
Most concerning for employers and managers is that on average 18-days are taken off work as a result of an individual suffering from depressive symptoms.
Depression “Presenteeism” (when individuals are physically present at work but mentally and emotionally absent) impacts 5 times greater that absenteeism.
It’s simple- depression is real, it’s decreasing your employees productivity, decreasing their work attendance, forcing early retirement, increasing risks/occupational accidents, increasing costs and according to WHO, its only predicted to get worse!
If this research startles you into paralysis- then you not alone. 1 in 10 people don’t know how to react to someone when they disclose they have depression, and only 25% of managers felt they had the knowledge and support to intervene appropriately. Whilst you are not doctors and certainly not psychologists to your staff, the bottom line is that you need to know what depression is, how to recognise it in your staff and how to intervene to ensure your team get the most support possible before work performance declines, or worse- accidents occur on the job.
It’s a case of work-life assimilation; your staff will take work into their personal space and bring their personal space into work. It is no longer about a balance between the two, but rather how best to accommodate the integration. So this is what you should be asking yourself-

  • To what extent is you knowledge and understanding of depression accurate?
  • What are the signs and signals you should be looking out for to identify depression in the workplace?
  • How accommodating is your working environment to mental health needs?
  • How supportive are your interventions for employees or managers who are suffering from depression?
  • How do I manage this productivity jeopardy tomorrow and what am I doing about it today?

Maintaining mental wellbeing is becoming a corporate core issue, and like all medical advice- prevention is better than cure. So are you prepared?
[1] SADAG & Hexor, 2015. Depression in the Workplace.
[2] Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders- Version Five (2014). American Psychological Association.

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