According to Psychology Today, an estimated 15 million Americans a year struggle with anxiety and depression. In the workplace, depression wreaks havoc with devastating consequences.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) report estimated that depression causes 200 million lost workdays in the U.S. annually at a cost to employers of $17 to $44 billion in productivity and insurance payments. In a 3-month period alone, the CDCP estimated employees with depression miss an average of 4.8 workdays and suffer 11.5 days of reduced productivity.

Entrepreneurs are certainly not exempt from battling depression. A study by Dr. Michael Freeman, a clinical professor at UC San Francisco, found that nearly half of them suffered from depression.

Even Tim Ferris candidly shared about his battle with depression (to the point of a near-suicide) while a student at Princeton. It's a serious issue.

As a manager or co-worker, perhaps you've noticed that someone at work has been less productive and reliable than usual. It may be time to step in and help.

Look for these signs

Unless you're a trained clinician, you can't diagnose someone at work for depression, so don't even try. But it's important to get a feel for typical symptoms. If someone you know is experiencing five or more of the following symptoms for more than two weeks, talk with the person and encourage them to seek help:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood.
  • Reduced appetite and/or weight loss, or increased appetite and weight gain.
  • Restlessness, irritability.
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Judgment is impaired.
  • Fatigue or loss of energy.
  • Decreased productivity
  • Morale problems
  • Lack of cooperation
  • Safety risks, accidents
  • Absenteeism
  • Frequent statements about being tired all the time
  • Complaints of unexplained aches and pains
  • Alcohol and/or drug abuse
  • Sleeping too little or sleeping too much.

How managers can help employees deal with depression

  • Create a culture of support: Talking about it helps (if they feel safe), so encourage workers to share how they're dealing with current stress, anxiety or depression. The point is not to play "therapist" but send the message that they're not alone, and that you will help support them through this phase of life.
  • Protect their confidentiality: Depression and other mental health issues are highly sensitive topics. If your employee opens up about it,  protect their privacy by keeping information to yourself unless they give you permission to share.
  • Show respect: If your employee has trusted you by sharing about their depression, and  once you understand that the symptoms they display don't affect their ability to do their job, treat them with honor and respect, not like they're "broken" and suddenly incapable. Many depressed people can perform work and manage themselves well.
  • Show your loyalty by asking how you can help, and explore options together to make their work easier.
  • Invite the depressed employee to join you and other co-workers in work-related social activities. Be gently insistent if the invitation is declined, but don't push too hard. 
  • Discuss flexible work arrangements: Remember, your role as a manager of a depressed employee is to help get them back to mental health. If that entails letting them work from home, take naps at work (which more companies are allowing), put in lesser hours or take a few days off, it should be your priority to do so to get them back at full speed.
  • Check in: Find out how they're doing every now and then because things could get progressively worse (and they may not want to divulge). Make sure they get that you are there for them, and are available to listen.
  • Finally, never, ever, ever ignore comments about suicide. If this happens, it may be critical to share these feelings with the depressed person's mental health provider.
Published on: Nov 17, 2017
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