Work and Wellbeing 13 July 2018

How employers can spot depression in the workplace and approach the situation

1/4 people will suffer a mental health problem at some point in their lives.
Karen Meager and John McLachlan, co-founders of Monkey Puzzle Training, discuss how employers can spot signs of depression within their workforce.

With one in four people experiencing some kind of mental health issue throughout their lives, it is probable that one of your staff members will be affected.

As a good manager, it has become an essential skill to be able to identify and provide support when someone is experiencing such issues such as depression.

Leading a productive and functional team is key for a successful business, so here we look into exactly when and how you can help to support your staff and enable them to thrive.

Spotting someone with depression

It can be hard to spot someone struggling with mental health issues as they may still come into work, unlike someone suffering from a physical ailment such as an infection or stomach bug. The key to spotting potential issues in the workplace is to look for prolonged changes in a person’s normal behaviour.

The clinical timeframe for measuring this is around three weeks. Below is a list of key symptoms to look out for, but keep in mind that this is a framework to measure against normal behaviour. If someone is generally acting this way, they may possibly be in the wrong job rather than depressed.

  • Difficulties in maintaining an appropriate working state. This could become apparent from tears and a low mood, or increased expressions of anger and irritation.
  • Increased difficulties in general working relationships such as trouble communicating clearly or being assertive in certain situations.
  • Avoidance of face to face contact or missing meetings.
  • Increased levels of procrastination, a fall in productivity or poor work results.
  • A general low or apathetic mood which affects motivation.

Being approachable

In order to approach the situation sensitively, it is best not to decide and diagnose a person’s mental state yourself. It can be helpful to approach a person privately and explain the behaviours you have observed then ask for their take on things. In a non-judgmental way you could give examples of things you have noticed such as low mood or missed work deadlines, and in turn allow the person to explain their side of things.

Although you should be generally approachable as a manager, it is your role to direct the person towards the right form of help, rather than becoming a form of counsellor yourself. Talking about mental health can be a sensitive issue and you may feel like it is intrusive to enquire, or worry that the response may be emotional and you won’t know how to best deal with it. Instead, think of yourself as a knowledgeable guide to direct them to the correct form of expert help.

Signposting for support

Become aware of the different forms of help available to your staff so you have the answers when required. Some organisations will have private healthcare, which will allow a route to access professional therapists. Staff members may feel worried about the confidentiality of this route through HR, so you should usually be able to inform them that these services are confidential and won’t show up on their employment record.


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