It's likely that at least one in eight of your employees or co-workers is suffering from depression. Since there remains an unfortunate stigma around mental health, depression is often invisible. Feeling a need to disguise his or her symptoms, the funniest, most outgoing person in the office is just as likely to be in the throes of depression as the next person.
In 2013, Gallup calculated that absenteeism among all depressed workers came to a staggering cost of $23 billion to employers. Keeping in mind how many workers do not seek treatment, those numbers are probably much higher. In addition to the high level of absenteeism and lost productivity, employees who suffer depression and anxiety disorders utilize three to five times more healthcare services for physical symptoms than other employees do, dramatically increasing the company's health benefits expenses. Among all medical conditions, depression may have the greatest negative impact on time management and productivity.
Whether you are reading this as an employer who wishes to lessen the suffering and impact, or someone who suffers from depression, there are steps you can take to manage the pressure. Leadership expert, Dennis C. Miller has inspired thousands of executives with his honest account of his early years of depression and how he transformed his life from one of hopelessness and failure to being happy and successful.
Here are Miller's suggestions to address and manage depression within yourself, as well as the workplace.
Don't suffer alone.
This may seem like common sense, but far too many people are ashamed of admitting they are depressed and stressed out. Reach out to a close friend and confide in them; build a support system. You can also reach out to someone in your HR department, faith-based organization, or a local mental health center to ask for support.
Learn to manage your stress.
Stress is a common condition of today's world, however, when it leads to depression and anxiety it can interfere in your personal and professional responsibilities. Focus on those things in the workplace that you can control and you'll greatly reduce the load you're having to bear.
Understand that depression is extremely common and very treatable.
It's not a character flaw. There is still too much stigma in our society about mental health issues, but not that long ago, people who suffered from cancer also felt stigmatized. Times are changing.
Try to maintain a balanced life.
Work is important, but you can't be married to your job. Try to develop friendships, exercise and eat healthy foods, and take time off for vacations. We all need to de-stress ourselves on a regular basis. Don't wait until Friday afternoon to plan your weekend, start much earlier in the week.
Leaders: create a supportive environment at work.
In addition to managing your own mental health successfully, CEO's should be responsible for creating an environment that helps to end the stigma of mental health in the workplace.
Hold regular check-in meetings with employees, or have HR conduct meetings to assess how employees are getting on with their work and the workplace. Often just having a regular outlet to air grievances can abate issues that build up over time. In addition, allow anonymous comments, suggestions, and concerns from employees. Often people don't feel comfortable talking about problems at work, so give them a way to be heard where they don't feel threatened or vulnerable.
The best way to maintain positive mental health in yourself and your employees at work is to educate yourself on what certain situations look like. Learn the early warning signs and watch for anyone who is stressed, anxious, or getting into conflicts at work. Be proactive about reaching out to that employee--suggest taking some time off, or offer to schedule a meeting with yourself or HR. Above all make sure you're listening to their concerns.
Be careful in the language you use around mental health.
Words like "psycho" and "crazy," even when used casually or jokingly, can be extremely hurtful. Educate your employees about their language in the workplace.
Reward employees for small acts of kindness.
It's easy to overlook the beneficial effects of helping out with a mundane task or giving a compliment. Encourage employees to perform a couple of small acts of kindness each week, even online through the office social media network. The effort will pay off tenfold.
Uphold work-life balance.
The tendency is to think that the later employees stay the more work they'll get done and the faster the organization will grow. In fact, it can be the opposite. Overworked employees are often less productive and more stressed, and these issues compound over time. Organizations are more efficient and effective when they uphold values around work-life balance.
The job of today's leader is a tough one without the stigma surrounding mental health. With that stigma, it becomes crippling for many. The first step to creating solutions is acknowledging there's a problem--mental health needn't be a taboo topic.