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Workplace Taboo

By Jacqui Beasley
Rehabilitation Consultant

Shockingly, figures released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) have revealed that the number of people with depression worldwide increased 189% between 2005 and 2015, with now more than three million people living with depression. This figure marks depression as the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide – it is no wonder employers are now starting to think about how they can detect and support employees suffering with this illness.

What is depression?

Depression is a real illness that causes changes in brain chemistry.  Anyone suffering from depression will tell you that it’s not imaginary or ‘all in your head’. Depression is more than ‘just feeling down’  and can have a significant impact not only for the individual but their families and work colleagues.

 What causes depression?

Although scientists agree that depression is a brain disorder, the debate continues about exact causes. Many factors may contribute to the onset of depression, including genetic characteristics, changes in hormone levels, medical illness, stress , grief or substance abuse.

What are the Symptoms of depression:

  • Feelings: Sadness, hopelessness, guilt, moodiness, angry outbursts, loss of interest in friends, family and favourite activities.
  • Thoughts: Trouble concentrating, trouble making decisions and trouble remembering.
  • Behaviours: Withdrawing from people, substance abuse, missing work, attempts to self harm.
  • Physical problems: Tiredness, unexplained aches and pains, change in appetite, weight loss/gain, changes in sleep and sexual problems.

Why should employers care about employees' mental health and wellbeing

Employers have a responsibility to promote workplace wellbeing and help prevent poor mental health.  It is in their interest to take workplace wellbeing seriously, as those companies that do typically have more engaged, productive and loyal employees, who are less likely to have to take time off sick. Standing by people when they experience a mental health problem is not only about keeping hold of a valuable employee, it also sends a message about your organisation's values. Trust and integrity are key drivers of engagement and organisations that support employees reap the benefits in terms of loyalty and commitment from all employees. It is something that QBE is taking seriously, by training managers to understand common mental health conditions so that an open and supportive work environment can be fostered.

What can employers do?

  • Organisations need to send a clear signal to employees that their mental health matters will be treated in the same way as physical health.
  • If employers take proactive steps to create a more open and supportive culture, over time employees should begin to feel more confident talking to managers about their emotional/ mental health.
  • Encourage employees to access and make use of their employee assistance programmes.
  • Support any workplace adjustments i.e. flexible hours, change of workspace (quieter), working from home, changes to break times, provision of quiet rooms.
  • Typically, when it comes to mental health problems, it is small, inexpensive changes, such as instilling a schedule of regular catch ups with managers, change of workspace, working hours, or breaks that can have a significant positive impact.            

If you are suffering with depression or just want to understand more, please visit the Mind website